This Haiti policy is doomed, too

July 12, 1994|By David Crosland

UNTIL THE announcement of the creation of Haitian safe haven and refugee processing centers in the Caribbean last week, the Clinton administration seemed to be going down the same path trod by presidents Reagan and Bush.

Regardless, the old and the new policies lead to no solutions, but rather to predictable negative results.

The only viable solution now is a military invasion to rid Haiti of its corrupt government.

The most recent policy shift was just the latest on Haiti for the Clinton administration, which began dealing with Haiti even before the president took office. Bill Clinton, who had denounced President Bush for ordering the Coast Guard to automatically return Haitians, decided to continue that policy. That was fueled by fears that more U.S.-bound Haitians would take to sea in rickety vessels buoyed by then-candidate Bill Clinton's criticism of the Bush policy.

The Clinton administration's decision to open a refugee processing office in Haiti also won't work. Haiti is not a safe place to claim asylum. Such a facility will obviously be watched by the underground police, and anyone going into the facility might be expected to face harm upon leaving.

This assumes that a person can get to the asylum office. The roads are difficult or almost non-existent in some rural areas.

The Clinton administration also has reopened the tent city at the naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, an abandoned Bush policy. With 1,000 would-be refugees being picked up each day, it was predictable that that policy would be doomed.

The latest reversal of policy, which denies review of asylum claims at sea, may reduce the number of Haitians actually intercepted for transportation to third-country processing centers, but not stop Haitians from fleeing.

The drop in the number of intercepted Haitian boats since the new policy was announced is probably deceptive because Haitians will seek to come surreptitiously to the United States rather than to third countries. In the past, they could have claimed asylum in such countries but did not. The result could be more overcrowded boats and more drownings. If Haitians make their way to third countries, then pressure may build among such countries to support more aggressive U.S. action.

Many of the problems surrounding Haiti became clear to me during and after my 1977 visit there as the general counsel for the Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Carter administration. For years, the State Department had said there was no proof that political repression was causing Haitians to flee. During my visit, I could not conclude that any particular individuals had been harmed. Nor could I conclude that they had not been. One simply was not able to get that type of hard information in Haiti.

As a result of my trip, I initiated a change in U.S. regulations, allowing asylum claims by foreign nationals stopped at our borders to be heard by judges. Now, we know that hundreds and perhaps thousands of people have been brutally murdered by the thugs hired by the Haitian government. Many of those killed are either dissidents or others likely to support exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

For the Haitians already here, there are temporary solutions other than protracted hearings on asylum claims. One approach would allow them to stay in the United States on temporary protective status. Such relief has been given to people from other countries where individual claims may not meet the legal standards for approval of asylum or the U.S. government does not want to process such claims. Congress can act to provide temporary protective status.

Another approach would be for the administration to give extended voluntary departure, allowing Haitians to remain here for an indefinite period of time. They may or may not be told that eventually they would have to return to Haiti. This would protect those with weak asylum claims under the law. However, such action would probably encourage larger numbers to flee Haiti for the United States.

That leaves a military invasion as the only solution; It's probably the only way that the ruthless military government of Haiti can be replaced. We have reached the point in which this alternative should be swiftly executed.

David Crosland, a Washington lawyer, was acting commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1979 to 1981.

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