President Carter said he will meet today with top advisers to reach decisions on a policy for dealing with the continuing flow of Cuban exiles into Florida and the thousands of Haitians already there.
The president told a group of visiting editors yesterday that the meeting was called to put the "final touches" on the new policy. It will be "our best approach to this issue," he said.
The lack of a clear policy toward the steady stream of Cubans was criticized again on Capitol Hill yesterday, this time by members of the House immigration subcommittee, who said the administration's decisions so far have trampled U.S. immigration laws and have not been tough enough in trying to divert the flow.
Reps. Robert McClory (R-Ill.), ranking minority member of the full Judiciary Committee, and Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.), chairman of the subcommittee, said they didn't think the newcomers should be given "refugee" status in a group determination. At a hearing the day before, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recommended giving blanket refugee status to both Cubans and Haitians.
McClory, who is also a member of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy working on long-range policy proposals, released a letter to Carter that asked him to reverse his present policy, return the exiles to Cuba and crack down on boat owners who carry the new arrivals to Key West.
"We've stretched the whole policy far beyond the point Congress anticipated," he told Victor H. Palmieri, the State Department's refugee coordinator.
Calling the Cubans or Haitians "refugees" in the legal term gives them a status that has serious fiscal implications because it makes a wide range of federal benefits available. Though most people, including President Carter, refer to the groups as refugees, they are being processed as applicants for asylum, which is decided on a case-by-case basis.
Holtzman announced her own five-point plan for dealing with the problem. The keystone is getting the Cuban community in south Florida to agree to a moratorium on sending boats to Cuba. This would give the administration a chance to get Cuban President Fidel Castro to allow an orderly processing of those wishing to leave Cuba.
Palmieri said he thought her idea was a good one. "It's so good we have been implementing it before you announced it," he said. He added, though, that the Cuban-Americans don't seem interested in a moratorium until an alternative is offered for getting relatives out of Cuba.
There has been no sign yet that Castro is willing to talk about a more orderly flow of those leaving Cuba.
Palmieri told the hearing yesterday that the diplomatic efforts under way now for solving the crisis are too sensitive to discuss publicly. The refugee coordinator did take pains to put the problem into context, as he put it, by explaining how both Castro and Congress were accountable too.
He called Castro an "embattled dictator" who is conducting a "form of guerrilla warfare that uses people as bullets" to divert world attention from the increasing demoralization of his population.
He also noted that Congress had narrowly defined those eligible for "refugee" benefits because easy access would trigger "a rush to our shores."
Both Holtzman and Rep. Caldwell Butler (R-Va.) expressed concern about the administration's lack of complete figures on the number of convicted felons and other undersirables among the arriving Cubans.
David Crosland, acting commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said 421 persons were being detained as serious criminals, which is less than 2 percent of the nearly 37,000 Cubans processed through midnight Monday. But the subcommittee members said they felt the proportion was higher and still rising.
In a related development, Rep. Clarence Long (D-Md.), announced that the administration changed its decision to use Bainbridge Naval Training Center, Md., as a future site to process Cubans because it would be too expensive to reopen.