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Home / 2003 / 04 / 28 / Asylum News 13
April 28, 2003

Asylum News 13

Attorney General Ashcroft Calls for Blanket Detentions of Haitian Asylum Seekers

New Precedent Decision Portrays Haitians as Risks to National Security Take Action on this Issue Now! The Attorney General issued a sweeping “precedent decision” on April 17 which portrays Haitian asylum seekers arriving by sea as threats to national security and effectively directs immigration judges to indefinitely detain these Haitians. "This is not a decision which is concerned so much with protecting our security as it is concerned with sending a message to the Haitians themselves," said Eleanor Acer, Director of the Asylum Program at Human Rights First. "The thinly veiled message behind this order reads: 'go home Haitians. You are not wanted here.'" As a result of the Attorney General’s decision, Haitian men, women and children – who have no intent to harm the United States – will be detained in jails or other facilities for months or years without being given a meaningful chance to demonstrate that their detention is unnecessary. “In essence the Attorney General – invoking the term ' national security ' – is depriving asylum seekers of the chance to prove that they, in their individual cases, present no security risk and merit release on bond. Jailing asylum seekers for months or longer and depriving them of the chance to show, in their individual cases, that they present no risk and merit release, is unfair and inconsistent with both American values and international law,” added Acer. This is yet another action taken by the Administration which enforces a discriminatory detention policy directed at Haitians, Human Rights First said. The decision could also have a devastating impact on other asylum seekers and non-citizens given its overly broad invocation of "national security" to justify the indefinite detention of asylum seekers who mean no harm to the U.S. In the decision (called In Re D-J-), the Attorney General refused to release an 18-year-old Haitian asylum seeker who has been detained since October 29, 2002, when he and about 200 other Haitian men, women and children arrived by boat in Florida. The Attorney General's action also vacated a decision made by the Board of Immigration Appeals which had ruled that the young man was entitled to an individualized determination of the need for his continued detention. The Attorney General, in his decision, contends that releasing the Haitian asylum seeker “or similarly situated undocumented seagoing migrants, on bond would give rise to adverse consequences for national security and sound immigration policy.” There is no indication that the 18-year-old Haitian himself is any threat to U.S. security. Instead, the Attorney General has concluded that a surge in Haitian migration by sea would “divert valuable Coast Guard and [Department of Defense] resources from counterterrorism and homeland security responsibilities.” The Attorney General also claimed that the State Department had asserted that it “has noticed an increase in third country nations (Pakistanis, Palestinians, etc.) using Haiti as a staging point for attempted migration to the United States. This increases the national security interest in curbing use of this migration route.” A full copy of the decision is available on the Department of Justice’s website. The Attorney General directed that immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals (the administrative appellate board that reviews immigration judge decisions), in future bond release proceedings, consider government submissions claiming that national security interests are implicated. In so doing, the Attorney General sent a clear signal that he expects immigration judges and the Board to refuse to release Haitian asylum seekers as well as other non-citizens based on U.S. government assertions of broad national security concerns – even when there is no reason to believe the individual at issue himself presents a risk of harm to the United States. Human Rights First is troubled by the overly broad and contorted arguments used by the Attorney General in order to justify his invocation of the “national security” label in this case. “Attorney General Ashcroft essentially says that giving Haitian refugees due process is just too distracting,” said Acer. “And anything distracting is by definition a danger to national security. Therefore Haitian refugees are a threat to national security. And we're likely to have less of them if we keep them all in jail.” Acer noted that “this decision is yet another example of how the Administration takes measures in the name of security that cause extreme hardship to people without making Americans safer.” At another point in the decision, the Attorney General also argued that the 200 Haitian asylum seekers on the October 29 boat should be detained rather than released on bond because the U.S. government did not have the capacity to adequately screen them. The Attorney General stated that: “Under the current National Emergency, the Government’s capacity to promptly undertake an exhaustive factual investigation concerning the individual status of hundreds of undocumented aliens is sharply limited and strained to the limit.” While it strains credulity to believe that the U.S., which is at this very moment conducting security checks on many other non-citizens, cannot handle screening 200 Haitian men, women and children, it is also significant that nowhere does the Attorney General address the substantial cost of detaining the Haitians for prolonged periods – or the amount of money that could be better spent on directly protecting national security if adequate resources were devoted to promptly and thoroughly screening the Haitians, so that they could be released from detention rather than jailed at substantial government expense for months or years. Human Rights First urges Attorney General Ashcroft to revoke this decision and end discriminatory detention policies targeted at Haitian Refugees. Take Action on this Issue now! For background on this issue, read Human Rights First March 25, 2003 Press Release. Read the April 25 Washington Post article on this issue. Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues. If you are not subscribed, and would like to continue receiving Asylum Protection News, sign up here