While the United States is acting to admit more Indochinese immigrants who wash ashore in Asia, it is attempting to deport other thousands of "boat people" who have landed on southern Florida beaches from Haiti.
A group of civil rights attorneys and congressional representatives charged yesterday that the Immigration and Naturalizatioin Service is denying due process to dispose of them "economically" through mass deportation hearings in Miami.
The Haitians, Del. Walter Fauntroy (D.D.C.) said in a press release, have been "singled out for mass rejection" of political asylum by INS, apparently because they are "black, poor and fleeing" from an anticommunist, rightist government.
Although he noted the INS Commissioner Leonel J. Castillo has made "efforts to secure due process for Haitians" for more than a year, Fauntroy charged that "officials in the Department of Justice and INS apparently have a bias based on skin color, class or ideology" against Haitians.
Little publicized outside of Miami, the issue of the Haitian boat people has been simmering since 1972, when 65 haitian men, women and children drifted onto a public beach in a frail, wooden sailboat and claimed they were fleeing political persecution.
Since then, thousands have made the 800-mile trip across the Caribbean from their impoverished island homeland, usually packed in the same type of wooden fishing craft that bring many of the Vietnamese boat people to Malaysia. The Haitian influx kept a steady pace until last summer, when it skyrocketed to an estimated 1,200 per month.
Initially, the number of Haitians was considered manageable. Some of the immigrants were caught as they set foot on the beach and quickly flown home. Others were put in jail, and given "exclusion" hearings-the INS word for deportation of those who arrived illegally. Most simply disappeared in Haitian ghettos of Miami.
Those who were caught frequently claimed political asylum on the advice of civil attorneys.
The claims were based on a fear of persecution at the hands of the government of Haitian President Jean Claude Duvalier.
It was not until a 1977 Supreme Court case, however, that the Justice Department recognized the rights of Haitians to INS interviews to judge their political asylum claims.
At the same time, in an INS concession to complaining Miami church groups, hundreds of Haitians were let out of jail pending interviews and hearings, and given temporary U.S. work permits.
Then the flood of Haitians began. The work permit decision brought 3,000 illegal, and previously hiding, Miami Haitians out into the open to claim their right to work.
The numbers multiplied last summer when thousands more Haitians landed in southern Florida from the Bahamas after the government there decided to begin its own crackdown on illegal aliens.
As the sheer numbers of Haitians became untenable, INS started to "expedite" their cases, at rates sometimes approaching 150 deportation hearings daily in Miami. The battle over migrant rights escalated.
Out of nearly 9,000 cases currently being processed in Miami, Castillo said in an interview, "practically none" of the Haitians have been adjudged as meriting political asylum.
However, the Haitians' lawyers, through a series of appeals and continuances, have kept all but about 200, from being sent home.
The INS is no longer issuing work permits, and some Haitians are once again being thrown into jail while awaiting processing. Two weeks ago, in what Castillo descirbed as a "screw up" on the part of both local and INS officials, an 8-year-old Haitian girl was discovered in a West Palm Beach jail, where she had stayed for two weeks since landi ng on the beach with her father.
The INS has consistently maintained that the vast majority of the Haitians leave home because of economic rather than political problems, and that they are not eligible for political asylum under current U.S. immigration laws.
In response, Castillo said that the Haitians are being given "the full benefit of the law and due process." He said the expedited procedures are both necessary and "are requiring a great deal, on a proportional basis, of INS resources."
While the attorneys acting on the Haitians: behalf say they are not given enough access to theirclients or time to make claims for them, Castillo said the Haitians "wouldn't claim [political] asylum in the first place if the lawyers weren't there to tell them how to do it."
In a report issued yesterday, three legal groups including the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, charged that the INS, in response to the vast and unexpired numbers of poor, illegal Haitians, decided to begin throwing them out-primarily to avoid setting an encouraging precedent for other Third World illegals.
Despite the Haitian's claims to political asylum, the report said, the INS rarely bothers to find out if the refugees are likely to be persecuted if they are forced to return to Haiti.
In almost all Haitian cases, the report said, deportation proceedings are initiated even before an interview is scheduled, under the 1977 Justice decision, to hear their claims for asylum.
The report noted that only seven attorneys-at the behest of such groups as the National Council of Churches - presently represent the Haitian in those cases. It charged that the expedited interviews and hearings prohibit effective counseling, that attorneys have on occassion been physically and verbally abused by INS in their attempts to speak with the Haitians.
The National Council of Churches has retained the Washington law firm of Covington and Burling to press its claims that the Haitians are being discriminated against, and Castillo said he fully expects to go to court on the due process issue.