Thousands of Haitian refugees seeking political asylum in the United States won at least a temporary victory when a federal judge in Miami ordered a 10-day halt to efforts by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deport them.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Alcee Hastings affects about 2,000 of the 50,000 to 60,000 Haitian refugees already in this country.
In ordering the postponement, Hastings said the behavior of the service toward the refugees has been "as haphazard as the rolling seas that brought these boat people to this great country's shores" and that the agency's tactics in this case "could not have served the great interests of a democracy such as ours."
Hastings added that these refugees have been "shuffled" to detention camps "that seem to clone themselves in that they are all in desolate, remote, hostile, culturally diverse areas where a paucity of available legal support and few, if any, Creole interpreters can be found."
Lawyers for the Haitians had argued that the refugees, being held by the government in federal prisons or detention facilities in Puerto Rico; Big Springs, Tex.; Morgantown, W. Va., and Lexington, Ky., were being given deportation hearings without adequate access to legal assistance.
"There is evidence that the Haitians have been isolated, that they have no access to counsel, that there are no Creole-speaking people in any of those areas," said Ira Kurzban, a Miami attorney representing the Haitians. "The question is, can the government take people from an area where there are attorneys and compatible cultural facilities and take them some place where there aren't?"
Richard Schwartz, a Washington lawyer who has also worked on the case, added, "The INS just cannot send people to the boondocks where there are no lawyers to help them and then try to deport them."
The lawyers had asked for the restraining order to give them more time to finish up a lawsuit, pending before Judge Hastings, that seeks to force the INS to follow existing rules and procedures for deportation and the granting of asylum.
"The Haitian government has a policy that all refugees returned from the United States are spies and traitors," Schwartz said. He added that the conditions awaiting them in Haiti should be sufficient to guarantee the refugees political asylum.
Amnesty International, a human rights organization, has reported that some refugees who have been returned to Haiti have been "imprisoned and tortured."
In July of 1980, another U.S. District Court judge in Florida ruled that the government, following a line of discrimination and political expediency, had illegally rejected asylum claims from more than 4,000 Haitians in 1978 and 1979.