WASHINGTON (May 8, 2003) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's decision to detain a Haitian asylum seeker as a means to deter future migrations is a "dangerous precedent," according to the chairman of the bishops' Committee on Migration, who called the decision "troubling."
"Asylum seekers should only be detained when necessary for the limited purposes of individually determining danger to the community and risk of flight," said Miami Auxiliary Bishop Thomas G. Wenski in a statement released today. "People seeking asylum and fleeing persecution should never be sent the message of deterrence through detention."
Bishop Wenski noted that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called the detention of asylum seekers for the purpose of deterrence "an inappropriate goal."
According to Ashcroft's April 24 decision in the case of 18-year old Haitian David Joseph, categories of asylum seekers can be held indefinitely without regard to their individual circumstances, based solely on their nationality and a determination that they pose a threat to national security.
"U.S. law provides for individualized bond determinations to ascertain whether an individual is a flight risk or a danger to the community, as well as whether an individual presents a national security risk," Bishop Wenski said. "The government conducts security checks on thousands of non-citizens. Surely, the same type of screening could be applied to a few hundred Haitians."
Bishop Wenski called Ashcroft's decision "troubling" and urged him to reverse his ruling.
"We renew our call for respect to be shown for the human dignity of Haitians and other asylum seekers arriving at our shores," Bishop Wenski said. "Most importantly, this new policy may cause undue suffering to thousands of innocent people who come to our land to find protection from persecution."