Cruelty crosses party lines but Haitians stand alone


June 27, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

Just because something is legal does not automatically mean it is right.

Slavery, let us remember, used to be legal.

Last week, the Supreme Court said it was legal to return Haitian refugees to Haiti without giving them a hearing.

This was not a big surprise.

Not all that many people thought Bill Clinton's policy of returning these people to Haiti to face prison, torture or death was against U.S. law.

But many people thought it was wrong.

And they still do.

Once upon a time, Bill Clinton, too, thought it was wrong. On May 27, 1992, he said: "I am appalled by the decision of the Bush administration to pick up fleeing Haitians on the high seas and forcibly return them to Haiti before considering their claim to political asylum.

"This most recent policy shift is another sad example of the administration's callous response to a terrible human tragedy."

But that is when Bill Clinton was a candidate for president. As soon as he became president, he continued the same policy.

And what was the effect of that policy? Well, if you fled to America from Cuba on a hijacked airplane, you were a hero and greeted with open arms.

If you fled here from China on a leaking boat, you got stories about your "plight" and demands that you be granted political asylum.

But if you tried to get here from Haiti, you were intercepted on the high seas by U.S. warships and forced back.


There are many reasons, but let's look at three of them. And let's start with the ugliest:

Cuban people come in many shades, but most have brown skin.

Chinese people have a skin color we call yellow.

But Haitian people are very dark black.

And current U.S. policy seems to be:

If you're brown, come on down!

If you're yellow, that's mellow!

But if you're black, stay back!

There is a second reason for treating Haitians differently from other refugees: The Cubans are fleeing a Communist dictatorship. The Chinese are fleeing a Communist dictatorship. But the Haitians are fleeing a military-backed dictatorship.

And U.S. foreign policy has always been much more hostile to communism than to fascism. So when people flee non-Communist dictators, we are quick to say they are $l "economic" and not "political" refugees.

Finally, our own domestic politics has an impact on Bill Clinton's immigration policy.

Many of the fleeing Haitians would end up in Florida. And officials in Florida do not want them. They do not want to absorb any more poor people.

And Florida just happens to be one of the "mega-states" that will be critical to Bill Clinton's re-election in 1996.

So given all that, there was no reason for Clinton to champion the cause of Haitians once he was elected.

In fairness, however, I will quote Bill Clinton directly on the subject of Haitian refugees:

July 29, 1992: "The Bush administration is wrong to deny Haitian refugees the right to make their case for political asylum. We respect the right of refugees from other parts of the world to apply for political asylum, and Haitians should not be treated differently."

Sept. 9, 1992: "I want to reaffirm my opposition to the Bush administration's cruel policy of returning Haitian refugees to their oppressors in Haiti without a fair hearing for political asylum.

"Conditions in Haiti continue to deteriorate. According to Amnesty International, the military regime in Haiti is committing serious human rights abuses, including arrest without warrant, torture and extrajudicial executions.

"Given these conditions, the Bush administration should give Haitians the same right that the United States gives to refugees from other countries: the opportunity to apply for political asylum and receive a fair hearing."

Only one thing has changed since Bill Clinton made that statment: Today the cruel policy is his and not George Bush's.

The Supreme Court said last week that Clinton could continue that cruelty.

, But it didn't say he should.

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