To the Editor:
You assert (editorial, Sept. 28) that ”tens of thousands” of Haitians were sent back to Haiti in the early 1990’s because they ”could not make claims of persecution.” However, Haitians requesting asylum were not given adequate opportunity to present their claims, except in the first few months after the coup in 1991, when refugees were given interviews.
After that it was the practice of the both the Bush and Clinton Administrations to summarily return almost all Haitians despite the dangerous and life-threatening conditions in Haiti. This history should be remembered; like our practice in World War II, it is not one we should be proud of.
The writer is a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Text of Opinion
Fairness for Haitian Refugees
SEPT. 28, 1998
The Senate has included in its Treasury-Postal appropriations bill a provision to allow 40,000 Haitian refugees who have been in this country since 1995 to stay permanently. The House, which has not included similar language in its bill, should accept this measure when the conference committee meets to produce a compromise bill this week.
Last year, Congress amended the 1996 immigration act, which had made it much harder for Central Americans who fled civil wars and persecution to fight deportation even though many had lived in the United States for years. As a result of that correction, 150,000 Nicaraguans and 5,000 Cubans were granted permanent residency. Salvadorans, Guatemalans and some Eastern Europeans were also allowed to apply for residency under more lenient rules. But Haitians who fled their country under comparable circumstances were left out.
President Clinton moved quickly to shield the Haitian asylum seekers from immediate deportation by an administrative directive, giving Congress an opportunity to correct its omission. About a third of the Haitians were allowed into this country after authorities determined that they had credible fears of persecution if returned. The rest filed asylum petitions at least three years ago, and many are still awaiting the outcome of their cases. Allowing this group to stay would not signal an opening of doors to all illegal aliens. Indeed, tens of thousands of Haitian boat people were shipped back in the early 90’s because they could not make claims of persecution.
The Haitians who would benefit from the proposed measure have rebuilt their lives and developed community and family ties here. Compassion and fairness dictate that they be given the chance to stay.