A federal judge late Tuesday night temporarily halted a flight chartered to carry expelled Haitians to their home country after lawyers for some of the refugees charged that the Immigration and Naturalization Service had violated their rights in mass asylum hearings last week.
The deportation of 76 Haitian refugees from Miami was officially ordered postponed today. A formal hearing was scheduled Friday before U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings on the Haitians' claims that they were not "adequately" informed of their rights to a lawyer, to a formal public hearing and to apply for political asylum when they were taken in groups of 30 before INS judges in locked courtrooms here.
Eleven Haitians were returned to Haiti last week before Attorney General William French Smith ordered a temporary halt to the deportations of the first of 6,700 Haitain "boat people" who face exclusion.
After a review, however, the Justice Department announced Tuesday it was "satisfied" that the "rights of the Haitians . . . were adequately protected," according to INS general counsel David Crosland.
The on-again, off-again deportations are the latest development in the government's crackdown on the illegal immigration that has crowded a refugee camp here with nearly 1,000 Haitians and sent thousands of others into hiding in Miami's "Little Haiti" community. The government adopted its get-tough policy after a federal appeals court lifted a four-year moratorium on excluding undocumented Haitians from the United States.
Haitian advocates contend the refugees should be granted political asylum from the government of President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier. The INS is "sending them back to their death," said the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, director of the Haitian Refugee Center Inc.
However, after the uproar following the closed-door hearings, the Justice Department said it reviewed each of the planned deportations, and found the Haitians were advised of their rights to legal counsel "on two occasions" and declined. Anyone who expressed fear of returning to Haiti was granted a postponement, the INS said.
Haitian lawyers, however, argue that "any so-called waivers of these rights . . . were not knowingly and intelligently made."
The lawyers said they were denied access to the refugee and threatened with arrests when they tried to shout legal advice to the Haitians who were shuttled up back stairwells into the locked INS courtrooms.
INS law calls for asylum hearings to be closed unless the refugees request formal, open proceedings, the Justice Department said. But the refugees' lawyers said the mass proceedings violated the spirit of due process and amounted to an abrupt shift in the form of the generally open asylum hearings that have been held for other nationalities.
Meanwhile, as the steady flood of makeshift Haitian boats continues onto South Florida beaches, the cinderblock dormitories and tents of the INS refugee detention center are "fast approaching capacity," according to INS spokesman Verne Jervis. About 600 refugees arrived in the first week of June.
The refugees are separated by sex in the camp on a former Army missile storage base 25 miles west of Miami. The camp is surrounded by three chain-link fences topped by barbed wire.
Last week, the government intensified other efforts to round up undocumented Haitians, and Haitian community workers went to the streets with bullhorns to warn refugees to stay away from InsY offices.
"The people are going into hiding," said Fr. Jean-Juste.