WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives, in a symbolic protest against the Bush administration, voted last night to suspend for six months the deportation of almost 7,000 refugees detained on a U.S. naval base.
The administration, which won a legal battle last week to force theHaitians home, is expected to veto the measure. It passed by a vote of 217 to 165, not enough to override a veto.
In the past month, the U.S. Coast Guard has returned nearly 6,600 of 15,800 Haitians detained at Guantanamo, Cuba. An additional 3,500 have been allowed to enter the United States to file asylum claims. The refugees fled after their elected government, headed by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown by the army on Sept. 30.
The bill was overwhelmingly endorsed by Democratic lawmakers, who stressed it would not allow any additional Haitians into the United States, but only temporarily prevent them from being sent home to violent, desperate conditions.
The House majority leader, Richard Gephardt of Missouri, called for a "color-blind concept of political sanctuary that honors Haitians for their humanity, rather than singling them out because they are black."
But most Republicans voted with the administration, saying they feared sending a misleading signal of welcome to other Haitians, and arguing that the United States cannot afford to absorb a tide of penniless refugees. "This will provide cruel encouragement for more Haitians to leave their villages, believing in the empty promise of safe haven in the United States," said Rep. Bill Emerson of Missouri, a Republican.
The House easily defeated an amendment that would have allowed the refugees special protective status inside the United States as long as Haiti remains in turmoil.
Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats called for the return of Mr. Aristide and urged the swift deployment of an international civilian mission to Haiti to bolster the restoration of democracy, saying the United States would contribute $2 million to such a mission.
In Haiti, U.S. Ambassador Alvin Adams returned after a month's absence and strongly endorsed a political accord signed last weekend between Mr. Aristide and his legislative foes. Mr. Adams was ordered home in January after gunmen attacked a group of political leaders.
"I am here as a sign of moral support for those who are struggling to solve the Haitian crisis," Mr. Adams said upon arrival in Port-au-Prince, the capital. "I believe the perspective is quite positive."
From Geneva, Mr. Aristide sent mixed signals on his attitude toward army officials, who participated in the coup but whose support is crucial for any lasting solution. Mr. Aristide said the army commander, Gen. Raoul Cedras, must "face justice to answer for his crimes." But he also invited General Cedras to meet with him and discuss ways to "reduce his punishment."
The agreement signed last weekend calls for a new prime minister and consensus government until Mr. Aristide returns. In return, the OAS embargo would be lifted and an amnesty declared for political crimes.