Much to the dismay of the human rights and civil rights communities, once in office President Bill Clinton continued the Bush Administration’s policy of forcibly returning Haitian immigrants to Haiti and maintaining a virtual prison camp for HIV-positive Haitians at Guantanamo. As a candidate, he had harshly criticized these same strategies.
Thus, in the spring of 1993 the same legal team which had fought the Bush Administration-CCR. the San Francisco Lawyers’ Committee for Urban Rights, the Lowenstein lntemational Human Rights Clinic of Yale Law School, the ACLU, and the private lirm of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett-found itse lf facing the Clinton Department of Justice. In arguments before the Supreme Court the team fought against the interdiction policy and in a three-week trial in New York, it argued that the Guantanamo base should be closed.
On June 8, 1993, federal Judge Sterling Johnson ordered that the Guantanamo camp must be closed down and that the remaining Haitians, held captive for months behind barbed wire, must be released. Judge Johnson’s stinging opinfon said in part:
Although the defendant. (U.S. government agencies) refer to its Guantanamo operation as a “humanitarian camp,” the facts disclose that it i nothing more than an HTV prison camp presenting potentiall public health risks to the Haitians being held there.
The opinion continued:
The detained Haitians are neither criminals nor national security risks. Some are pregnant mothers and others are children. Simply put, they are merely the unfortunate victims of a fatal disease…The Haitians’ plight is a tragedy of immense proportion and their continued detainment is totally unacceptable to this Court.
However, on June 21, 1993, as Haitians were being greeted by ecstatic family members and supporters at Kennedy Airport in New York, the Supreme Court upheld the Bush-Clinton policy of interdicting Haitians on the high seas by an 8-1 vote. The Court ruled that prohibitions against the forced return of refugees did not apply outside the territory of the U.S. despite the clear language of the Refugee Act of 1980, which provides that “no contracting state shall expel or return…a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account. of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or poIitical opinion.”
At this writing, the situation in Haiti continues to deteriorate as terror increases under the rule of the military junta which has violated U.N.-sponsored agreements providing for the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
CCR is now coordinating efforts to find counsel for the more than 300 Haitians who were released from Guantanamo, so that their asylum claims can be µprocessed properly.
Organizing efforts go forward, as a large coalition of organizations continues to press the return of the legitimate democratic government in Haiti.
Michael Ratner. Jules Lobel, and Susan Shende with Harold Koh of the lnternational Human Rights Clinic of Yale Law Schoo!; Joseph Tringali of Simpson, Thatcher& Bartlett; Robert Rubin of San Francisco Lawyers·Committee for Urban Affairs; and Lucas Guttentag and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigration Rights projects