May 28, 1992
The Administration's newly announced policy of interception and return of Haitian boat people to Haiti is unacceptable in light of internationally approved humanitarian principles and the availability of alternative solutions. We stand ready to help the United States Government solve this crisis in any way possible. In this light we offer the following suggestions:
I. Dramatically expand refugee processing in Haiti
The Catholic Church's network is prepared to send staff to Haiti to help the government locate and interview potential refuge applicants, not only in Port-au-Prince, but especially in the countryside. We would urge the United States government to rapidly expand its processing capacity in Haiti and to be more generous in reviewing the cases presented. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees could be asked to assist in the monitoring and protection of returnees.
II. Establish a special entrant status for Haitians
The United States Catholic Conference's Office of Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) has provided resettlement services to nearly 4,000 Haitians since this crisis began. Without our assistance, and that of Church World Service, the government would not have been able to bring in the more than 6,500 Haitians already admitted. There are still thousands being held in Guantanamo. By including other voluntary agencies, processing can be accelerated to the rate of 1,000 per week until the backlog is cleared. But, such a move must be predicated on a one-year, non-site specific, employment authorization.
For those Haitians deemed eligible to come to the United States and to apply for asylum, we urge the Attorney General to grant them a special entrant status similar to the status given to the Mariel Cubans and Haitians in 1980. Such a move would save the government an enormous amount of money and would eliminate the current burdensome asylum requirements. The government currently has a backlog of more than 200,000 asylum cases waiting to be heard. The Church has responded with a system to provide legal services for the Haitians. Our ability to continue this service depends on the generosity of future donors and the availability of volunteer attorneys able to donate large blocs of time for this labor intensive legal process. A new entrant status would obviate the need for this complex array of services.
We are particularly concerned about the 200 screened-in unaccompanied minors being kept in Guantanamo. We urge the government to bring them all to the United States within the next three weeks. USCCB/MRS and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services have committed to the joint resettlement of these Haitian minors with the assistance of our foster care networks.
Another great concern of ours centers on the Haitians on Guantanamo who have been diagnosed as HIV-positive. They are kept in an isolated section of the naval base and are subject to more rigorous refugee processing than is the general population. They are also prohibited from communicating with their friends and families in Haiti or elsewhere. We urge the United States government to allow the immediate provision of medical, legal, and pastoral counseling.
III. Establish temporary holding centers
At the very least, we would encourage the Administration to rescind the new Executive Order and temporarily house the Haitians at Guantanamo. If this can not be done, then the Government should continue to pursue other sites in the region. Such a center could be internationally managed and offer refugee processing. This would provide a humanitarian response to the crisis, while answering the Administration's concern that processing in Guantanamo has prompted more Haitians to leave by boat.