STUNG FIRST by the eagerness of 10,000 Cubans to flee the country, and then by the impact of the incident on world opinion, Fidel Castro has thrown up bureaucratic obstacles to the smooth departure of the 10,000. He has also felt it necessary to put half of Havana in the streets to demonstrate that some Cubans prefer to stay, and to organize mob harassment of the people in the Peruvian Embassy. This is ugly stuff. But the necessary places of asylum are on the way to being found, in Europe as well as in this hemisphere. The United States is taking 3,500, who will join the 16,000 other Cubans (mostly former prisoners and their families) scheduled for entry this year. The spontaneity of the flight, the apoplexy of the Cuban government and the readiness of others to offer refuge provide a revealing snapshot of the hemispheric scene.
But the incident reflects more than another collision between Cuba and its neighbors. It reflects more than another collision between Cuba and its neighbors. It reflects one in a seemingly unending series of national crises whose most urgent international consequence is a fresh flow of refugees. In this regard, it is good to report that, thanks to the just-passed Refugee Act of 1980, which replaced the previous policy potpourri, the United States is well placed to react to the Havana crisis. It is possible to question the number the administration decided to take: actually, the agreed third amounts to a reduction in the United States' usual share of Cuban refugees. But the new law, with its flexible ceilings and agreed-upon procedures for congressional consultation, has let the United States respond effetively to a genuine emergency.
The coincidental arrival of a boatload of desperate Haitians at Miami Beach has made public a current bureaucratic debate over the thousands of Haitians who have sought asylum here in recent years. The new Refugee Act removes the favor the old law accorded people fleeing communist countries and establishes a uniform test for a political refugee -- a person outside his country with a "well-founded fear" of political persecution if he goes back. Many Haitians claim this fear, but the Immigration Service, believing most Haitian flight to be economic in origin, has accepted it in only a few hundred cases in a decade. This has forced the question of whether a double standard is still being applied to (mostly white) refugees fleeing communist Cuba, many with economic as well as political motives, and (black) refugees fleeing pro-America Haiti. a
The best course may be to offer asylum to already-arrived Haitians claiming political status and to write new procedures under the Refugee Act for prompt and fair adjudication of new cases. The terrain is swampy, but this promises a reasonable way for the United States to regain some control over this sort of illegal immigration, while remaining true to its tradition as a sanctuary for the oppressed.