I have been deeply concerned by what appears to be serious disparity in treatment between Cuban refugees -- who have been welcomed to the United States with "open arms" -- and Haitian refugees -- to whom the door may be slammed shut unless there is timely action by President Carter.
The president should use his present authority (which expires on May 15) to grant political refugee status on a group basis to Haitian nationals who have fled to United States seeking asylum.
I understand that 10,000 to 13,000 Haitians have come to the United States since 1972. Of that number, apparently no more than 100 to 200 (there is some discrepancy as to the exact figure) have been granted political refugee status. Within the same period, hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Indochinese have been admitted en masse as refugees.
This disparity in treatment appears to be based on arbitrary and unfair considerations. I am told that each individual Haitian has been required to prove -- often under conditions depriving him of due process -- that he was politically active at home and was in fear of persecution by his government. Persons who cannot prove that they were individual targets of government persecution are considered mere "economic" refugees, comparable to persons who cross the Mexican border seeking work in the United States.
This approach runs counter to the readily available facts. There is ample evidence of serious human-rights violations in Haiti. The Department of State's annual reports on human-rights conditions thoughout the world have described the torture, prison conditions and other human-rights violations now occurring in Haiti. Cognizant of the serious problems in Haiti, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in May 1979 to cancel $18.4 million in American aid to the Haitian government.
Given these facts, I see no logical basis on which to conclude that the average Haitian refugee's fear of persecution is materially different from the average Cuban's fear of persecution. Further, statements by Cuban nationals quoted in the press -- and some of which I have seen personally in U.S. televised interviews -- clearly show that many Cubans have fled their country seeking economic improvement, not basically because they were individual targets of political persecution.
At the same time, we cannot be insensitive to the fact that the present policy, while probably not intentionally racist, does place upon the Haitians (who are mainly black) a heavy burden of proof not placed upon Cubans (who are mainly white). So far, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has provided no reasonable explanation for this difference. In the absence of such an explanation, our policy has acquired a patina of racism that ought to be erased promptly. the facts, as well as the policy considerations, clearly point to the need for the president to exercise his authority to regularize the status of Haitians now present in the United States. Such a step is the only promising -- and equitable -- solution to this problem. The urgent need for action is underscored by reliable reports of starvation and disease among Haitians now in Florida.
Now that President Carter has declared the state of Florida a disaster area because of the burden imposed by the inflow of refugees, the federal government assistance that will be made available should be shared by the Haitians as well as by the Cubans.
We must not abandon the Haitians to the almost certainly dismal fate that former Haitian officials have described in sworn testimony to be awaiting any Haitians deported back to that country. To shut our eyes and close our gates to the real human need that is before us would be fundamentally inconsistent with traditions going back to the founding of our nation.