MIAMI — Asserting that constitutional guarantees of due process do not apply to people outside U.S. territorial limits, U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr urged a federal judge Monday to lift a temporary restraining order that has stopped the government from forcibly repatriating more than 6,000 Haitian refugees.
Starr also argued that "a substantial number of (the Haitians) should be repatriated because . . . a signal of change in U.S. immigration policy will serve as a beacon, a false beacon of hope that they can come to the United States. We should not be sending that beacon of false hope which could result in a disaster."
Starr's appearance at an extraordinary evening hearing before U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins served to underscore the severity of the crisis facing the Bush Administration over its response to a mass migration of boat people fleeing the military-sponsored coup that toppled Haiti's first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, on Sept. 30.
The hearing was convened to hear oral arguments from the government and refugee advocates on extending the ban, lifting it or making it permanent. Atkins did not rule Monday.
After a temporary suspension of the 10-year-old interdiction policy, the Administration in mid-November ordered the Coast Guard to begin returning the refugees. But on Nov. 19, lawyers for Haitian refugees won an order blocking the repatriation after arguing that interviews at sea by immigration officials were insufficient to determine which of the refugees had valid claims of political asylum.
Since that time, thousands of refugees have been plucked from the sea and held on board Coast Guard and Navy vessels or in a tent city hastily erected last week at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, Cuba.
Critics of U.S. policy have charged that excluding the vast majority of Haitians, fleeing an island ruled by a military government the United States does not recognize, is racism against blacks and inhumane. But Bush Administration officials, as well as the President himself, have contended that the large majority of Haitians are economic refugees, and not persons in fear of political persecution.
"That's the same old song we have heard from this and previous Administrations," said Ira Kurzban, an attorney representing Miami's Haitian Refugee Center. He said that he and other Haitian activists interviewed dozens of refugees last weekend at Guantanamo and aboard Coast Guard and Navy vessels and discovered that many immigration officers were incapable of judging the asylum claims because they were ignorant of Haitian political realities as well as U.S. law.
Starr argued that the courts had no jurisdiction to interfere with immigration policy, saying it was the product of the executive branch, and approved by a vote of Congress.
Since Oct. 29, 6,372 Haitians have been plucked from the sea near the Windward Passage.