Haitian Refugee Policy Declassified - The Document Collection

A Project by Keith Yearman, Assistant Professor of Geography, College of DuPage

Cover Letter. Dated April 28, 2006, from US Coast Guard to Keith Yearman. Grants release of 377 pages, and a fee waiver. 157 pages withheld. Another 516 pages sent to other agencies for review.

Proposed Refugee Admission Levels

Proposed FY 1991 Refugee Admission Levels. This four-page document reprints an October 3, 1990 statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee by Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Two interesting points about this statement - Haiti doesn't even warrant a mention, and the total number of refugees to be admitted from all of Latin America and the Caribbean was only 3,100.

Coast Guard Regulations, United States Code, etc.

Coast Guard Regulations 33 CFR. Part 177, "Correction of Especially Hazardous Conditions." This was used as part of the legal justification for boarding Haitian ships and destroying those declared to be unseaworthy.

Coast Guard Regulations J.7. More of the Coast Guard's legalese, J.7 is the "Termination of Unsafe Use" of boats. Used as part of the legal justification for boarding Haitian ships and destroying those declared to be unseaworthy.

Coast Guard Regulations Title 46 US Code. Section 4505, "Termination of unsafe operations." Used as part of the legal justification for boarding Haitian ships and destroying those declared to be unseaworthy.

Coast Guard Regulations Title 46 US Code. Section 4308, "Termination of unsafe opertations." Used as part of the legal justification for boarding Haitian ships and destroying those declared to be unseaworthy.

Coast Guard Circular 12 - 91, "Termination of Unsafe Operations Aboard Commercial Fishing and Industry Vessels." This September 13, 1991 document reiterates Title 46 US Code, used to seize and scuttle Haitian vessels.

Militarizing the Water - the 1981-82 Documents

Reagan's 1981 Executive Order 12324 - "Interdiction of Illegal Immigrants." Reagan orders the Coast Guard "to stop and board defined vessels, when there is reason to believe that such vessels are engaged in the irregular transportation of persons or violations of United States law...[and] to return the vessel and its passengers to the country from which it came...These actions...are authorized to be undertaken only outside the territorial waters of the United States."

Letter from US Embassy to Edouard Francisque, Haitian Foreign Minister. On September 23, 1981, the US requests Haiti's "consent to the boarding by the authorities of the United States Government of private Haitian vessels...[which] may be involved in the irregular carriage of passengers outbound from Haiti."

1981 Documents. This 19-page packet was faxed from the Commandant's office on November 12, 1991. It contains the 1981 Executive Order and other documents. Apparently provided as historical reference to Coast Guard's legal or operations staff for 1991 operations.

INS Interdiction Guidelines. This docuement was included in the US Government's addendum to its court filings.

The 1991 Coup - Refugees Flee the Bloodbath; Procedural Changes

How did the United States respond? It sent refugees back to the bloodbath, of course.

CIA report on coup. October 1, 1991.

November 18, 1991 Statement from the US Department of State. The State Department issues a statement concerning the "Haitian Boat People." With sick, sadistic humor the department announces "The United States is deeply concerned by the humanitarian tragedy of the Haitian boat people." Yet "The Coast Guard has been directed to return most of the boat people to Haiti beginning on Monday, November 18...We do not believe that those individuals returned to Haiti will be subject to persecution there. There is no history of such persons being persecuted."

Articles from November 1991. This packet of articles comes from the mass Haitian exodus during November 1991. The Coast Guard issues another "Public Affairs News Break" (reprinting a Baltimore Sun article with the blaring headline, "Coast Guard to return 1,700 boat people to Haiti; 49 are found eligible to stay." The Coast Guard collected more articles from later in the month.

The following documents pre-date the coup, but provide insight into the procedure used to repatriate Haitians.

Coast Guard's Haitian and Domrep Interdictions for CY88 - CY90. This heavily excised document says, "Typical Haitian interdiction involves approximately 100 migrants and approximately one day to repatriate to Port au Prince (PAP). The migrants are interviewed by INS agents enroute from Windward Pass to PAP; interviews normally complete upon arrival." This is of particular interest, as it seems to demonstrate that it was predetermined Haitians would be returned and not granted asylum in the United States.

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights Documents. The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights arranges a March 7, 1991 meeting with the Coast Guard to discuss the Haitian Refugee issue. These two fax cover sheets concern the meeting arrangements. This letter of February 5, 1991 to Rear Admiral Walter Leland discusses 23,000 intercepted Haitians since 1981, with only eleven "brought to the United States in order to pursue claims for political asylum..."

AMIO Background - Date Unknown. This sheet provides a historic background as to the Haitian interdiction effort, highlighting the 1981 Executive Order. It also gives a brief overview of Coast Guard and INS operations - "interviews fairly brief and informal (less 5 min/person)."

INS Meeting with Coast Guard. This heavily excised document details a meeting between Coast Guard Headquarters staff and Deputy INS Commissioner Ricardo Inzunza (misspelled in document title). Meeting date January 24, 1991.

INS Interview Changes. This March 13, 1991 document from Coast Guard Headquarters in Miami announces a series of changes to the on-board interview process of Haitians by INS agents. "Presently the INS interview of migrants takes approximately 3-5 minutes per person. The new interview procedures will take approximately 30 minutes per person and may, depending on the answers received, last even longer." The Coast Guard agreed to cooperate "as long as they do not require our cutters to delay their transit to Port au Prince...The INS agent will determine if the shorter or longer interview procedures will be used based on the time to Port au Prince. The longer interview method can be used, however the determining factor is the transit time to Port au Prince." [Document in extremely poor condition]

Additionally, the Coast Guard was busy collecting news articles about these changes. This fax of a March 16, 1991 Miami Herald article came from within the Coast Guard; the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics Matters sent the complete version of the same article.

Coast Guard Meeting with State Department, May 29, 1991. In this heavily excised fax from the Coast Guard Commandant, dated June 12, 1991, a meeting was detailed between the Coast Guard, INS and State Department. The meeting's results? "DOS will provide INS updated summary of in-country conditions to assist in making 'better and more timely' screening for refugee asylum claims...Have had one case this past week...handled without incident will all 56 being repatriated to PAP in a timely manner."

I have found three Profiles of Asylum Claims and Country Conditions for Haiti (the updated summary from the State Department), from May 5, 1994; September 1, 1994; and November 28, 1994.

Post-Coup Documents

In December 1991, then-President George H.W. Bush met with ousted Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. See the State Department's recommended talking points, and a briefing prepared for this meeting.

The military junta was responsible for a massacre in Conaives. See a State Department cable on the massacre, as well as press guidance (which also discusses military training in Haiti).

Also see the following documents regarding the junta's human rights practices:

"Interamerican Human Rights Commission Condemns Worsening Human Rights Situation in Haiti, May 20 [1994]." From US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters, Washington DC. Of importance, the Commission noted 133 cases and 210 allegations of extrajudicial killings between February and May, 1994.

"Report to Congress on the Participation or Involvement of Members of the Haitian Government in Human Rights Violations Between December 15, 1990, and December 15, 1994." Contains a detailed appendix of importance. 28-page document.

Letter from US Ambassador to Haiti, William Lacy Swing, to US Representative Corrine Brown, concerning the human rights situation in Haiti. This June 6, 1994 letter (in cable format) discusses the creation of a human rights fund, amongst other things.

"Scene-Setter for CODEL Dixon." This May 25, 1994 document was prepared for a congressional delegation visiting Haiti. Of note: "Human rights violations continue to increase at an alarming rate, both in their frequency and gravity, and the present situation in our view is worse than the darkest days of Duvalier."

Damage Control: "Embassy Cable Leaked to Newsweek Magazine: Talking Points."

The National Security Agency (later of domestic-spying fame) was listening to Aristide. This Boston Globe article made the rounds in the State Department.

The Embargo - and a National Emergency in the US!

In yet another instance of the elephant being scared of a flea (see Reagan's national emergency on Nicaragua - a "two days' drive from Harlingen, Texas), George Bush declares a national emergency. The events in Haiti "continue to constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat ot the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States." Thus we impose an embargo on Haiti. See Executive Order 12775, from October 4, 1991; also see Executive Order 12779 from October 28, 1991.

The Coast Guard issued a memorandum about the Executive Orders and embargo on November 27, 1991. Note: "For 30 days after 5 Nov 91, goods containing parts or materials first exported from the U.S. (to Haiti) prior to 5 Nov 91 may be imported into the U.S. after assembly or processing in Haiti. (An example I could think of might be baseballs coming back in where cowhide from the U.S. had arrived in Haiti before 5 Nov 91)."

If you get the chance to see the documentary "Uprooted: Refugees of the Global Economy," they interview a former baseball sewer from Haiti. Luckner was paid 14 cents per hour. The embargo pushed his job to China, and sent him across the Caribbean to Florida.

Department of Justice - Asset Control. This is apparently a record of contact from Department of Justice to the Coast Guard, prior to the declaration of the embargo on Haitian-made goods. Heavily excised.

The Embargo - November 28, 1991. Cable from US Coast Guard Commandant, Washington DC. Guidance had been requested "regarding at-sea law enforcement against vessels operating in apparent violation of Executive Order (EO) prohibiting certain transactions with respect to Haiti." Cutters ordered to approach and ask preboarding questions, "without actual boarding." A second communication is issued on March 10, 1993.

Rear Admiral William Leahy Statement before House Subcommittee, November 20, 1991. Leahy, then the Chief of the Office of Law Enforcement and Defense Operations is called before the House Subcommittee on International Law, Immigration, and Refugees.

Freedom of Information - Not! To keep from disclosing information on the AMIO, the Coast Guard's FOIA office issues an internal memorandum regarding the deliberative process privilege. They also issue a memorandum regarding "Discovery Disclosure Issues."

Blocking Repatriation

Judge Blocks Return. In this collection of articles, a federal judge blocked the repatriation of Haitians. In response, the Coast Guard issued this December 23, 1991 directive (heavily excised) which reads, "The Coast Guard will continue AMIO operations."

Legal Chronology. This December 30, 1991 document (preparted by the Coast Guard's District Legal Officer), is a highly useful chronology of the Haitian refugee crisis, from the September 30 1991 coup to the legal filings and court rulings prohibiting repatriation.



The Court Cases

In November, 1991 a major court case was launched to halt the repatriation of Haitian refugees. Below are relevant documents from these cases, released as part of a referral to the Justice Department (from the original Coast Guard request).

Temporary Restraining Order, dated November 19, 1991.

Omnibus Order, dated November 21, 1991.

December 3, 1991 ruling. This is a 60+ page document, so I have broken it down. Part I; Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Appeal Notice from US Government

Order Memorializing Oral Rulings, dated December 18, 1991.

Court Order of June 5, 1992

Documents from the Haitian Refugee Center's Court Filing:

Cover Sheet

Table of Contents

Certificate of Interested Persons

Table of Authorities

Statement of Jurisdiction

Statement of Issues

Statement of Case: Part I, Part II, Part III


Certificate of Service

Amicus Brief from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Documents from the US Government's Court Filing

Cover Sheet

Table of Contents

Statement Regarding Oral Arguments

Certificate of Interested Persons

Statement of Jurisdiction

Statement of Case: Part I, Part II, Part III

Certificate of Service



The Double-Standard

The US government has very different policies for Cubans and Haitians reaching US soil. Haitians are pretty much deported within a day or two, while Cubans are allowed to stay in the confines of southern Florida.

The Coast Guard began collecting news articles about the double standard. The first article came from the Sun Sentinel (included in part of the My Friend packet). The second article came from the New York Times, reprinted as a "Public Affairs News Break" from July 1991. The third piece was a July 1991 column from the Miami Herald.

Interdiction Statistics

1990 Interdiction Statistics. From Coast Guard Commandant's Office, April 10, 1991. Provides two maps showing area of operations for the Coast Guard, and interdiction statistics for each area. By far, most refugees interdicted came from Haiti, found in the Bahamas/northeast Cuba region.

Cuban Migrant Statistics. From the Coast Guard's Public Affairs Office, this provides a yearly overview of the number of Cubans the "Coast Guard has assisted or has been informed of." Note the dramatic jump for 1991 (with stats as of July 12, 1991).

1991 Interdiction Statistics. A Coast Guard overview of 1991 interdictions. Of the 13,790 migrants caught at sea, more than ten thousand were Haitian. Fewer than 2,000 were Cuban.

November 18, 1991 Interdiction Statistics. The Coast Guard published these statistics, listing interdicted boats and the number of people on board, as well as the number of repatriated Haitians and those stuck at Guantanamo Bay. A note at the bottom of the first page says "Fly INS teams back to Gtmo-."

Interdiction Incidents

Haitian Vessel Capsizes - January 28, 1990. Cable from US Coast Guard Commandant, Washington DC. March 27, 1991. On January 28, 1990 the Coast Guard and INS intercepted a Haitian boat off the coast of the Bahamas. While transferring Haitians to the Coast Guard cutter Thetis, the boat capsized, and two Haitians were lost at sea. "The Thetis crew was very inexperienced in [Alien Migrant Interdiction Operation]."

Interdiction of 19 Haitians, October 28, 1991. Nineteen Haitians were intercepted, and they said they fled Haiti due to the problems in the country. Three pages removed in their entirety.

The My Friend Incident. On April 5, 1991 106 Haitians were found on a 57-foot boat, the My Friend. In this nine-page packet, there are two articles from Coast Guard News, and articles from assorted newspapers. The ninth page also contains an article about the double-standard for refugees - how 13 Cubans who washed ashore two days before the My Friend was captured were fed, brought to a detention facilty and released to relatives. The Haitians - doomed to be shipped back to Port au Prince.