Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas report from Miami, on the administrative structures and state obstacles facing Haitian refugees who are trying to get political asylum in the United States. As a record number of Haitians flee Haiti for the US, the Bahamas, and other countries – an average of 200 people per week – the question of the rights of the so-called “boat people” and the approximately 30,000 undocumented Haitians in Florida is the subject of political debate in the United States. While Cubans fleeing Communism are considered political refugees by the federal government and granted asylum and various forms of aid (food assistance, work permit), Haitians are considered economic refugees and not granted the same protections or rights. Politicians and civil rights activists in the US, including Jesse Jackson, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Democratic legislators, claim that this is a political façade for institutionalized racism, and are pressuring the Carter administration and Congress to change the laws regarding the treatment of Haitian refugees. Dominique and Montas speak to the deputy district director of the INS, who denies that Haitian and Cuban refugees are treated differently and claims that the State Department has given them no evidence that Haitian refugees face persecution if they return to Haiti; staff members of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami, who argue that in the case of Haitian refugees, the economic cannot be separated from the political; and lawyer Ira Kurzban, who says that the State Department and INS have made it virtually impossible for Haitian refugees to present their claims for political asylum, and in so doing, have violated several federal statutes, the US Constitution, and international law. Dominique concludes by speaking of the courage, fear, and silent determination of the Haitian refugees: “these are our brothers, and we are all responsible.”
Haitian ambassador to the Dominican Republic Guy Alexandre discusses the 1996 repatriation of Haitians from the Dominican Republic. While ostensibly those repatriated were undocumented Haitian workers living in the Dominican Republic illegally, in fact many among them had papers certifying them to be in the Dominican Republic legally, or were in fact Dominican-born people of Haitian origin, or simply dark-skinned Dominicans. Alexandre says that while the Dominican Republic is a sovereign nation, it should have notified and consulted with the Haitian authorities before abruptly beginning this deportation process, and that the Dominican Republic should have mechanisms to establish people’s true nationality and identity before engaging in mass deportation. He discusses the relationship between this deportation edict and Dominican electoral politics, as it relates to Joaquín Balaguer (the successor to anti-Haitian dictator Rafael Trujillo) and opposition leader José Francisco Peña Gómez (a dark-skinned Dominican of partial Haitian descent), and those to politicians’ friends and allies on the Haitian side of the border. Alexandre discusses Dominican racial consciousness in general, the history of “whitening” and the erasing of African origins in the Dominican Republic. Interview Jean Dominique.
In September 1980, the Lady Moore repatriated 161 illegal Haitian migrants from the Bahamas. It was the ferry’s fourth expedition that year, during which more than 600 Haitians were returned to Haiti. Michèle Montas gives a short history of the status, conditions, and migration patterns of Haitians in the Bahamas. Originally recruited by US multinational corporations as a cheap source of labor to build the Bahamas’ tourist infrastructure in the 1950s and 1960s, the number of Haitian migrants grew rapidly over the decades, particularly fleeing northwest Haiti. By 1963, there were perhaps 10,000 Haitians living in the Bahamas. In 1972, the Haitian and Bahamian governments reached an accord for a certain number of Haitian migrants to come as seasonal agricultural laborers. By 1980, at the time of this recording, there were an estimated 40,000 Haitians living illegally in the Bahamas, and relations between the two countries were strained. The Bahamas claims not to have the resources to provide for the massive influx of Haitian workers, most of whom work in construction, agriculture, or as household laborers. Meanwhile, remittances from Haitian workers in the Bahamas become increasingly crucial to their families in Haiti, and the Bahamian economy continues to rely upon and exploit cheap Haitian labor.
A Haitian man who had been working in the Bahamas but who was returned in 1978, speaks of the discrimination faced by Haitians in the Bahamas. Haitians, regardless of visa status, are paid less than Bahamian workers. Bahamian workers fear that Haitians will take their jobs. The Bahamian government has a goal of repatriating 1000 illegal Haitians per year.
Despite detentions and deportations, people continue to flee Haiti for the Bahamas and Miami, sometimes arriving in the Bahamian archipelago or in Biscayne Bay, sometimes intercepted by the Coast Guard, sometimes drowning. (Report by Michèle Montas)
As the Haitian, Bahamian, and US governments and the United Nations negotiate what will happen to the more than 100 stranded migrants on Cayo Lobos, Jean Dominique interrogates spokesman William Kalis. Dominique states that Klaus Feldmann, the head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, sent a telegram to Bahamian Prime Minister Pindling at 3:30 pm, requesting that the Haitians on Cayo Lobos be granted refugee status under international law. Nearly eight hours later, Kalis states that the Prime Minister never received such a telegram, and that the only condition under which the Haitian migrants might be granted a temporary stay of deportation is if either the US, or the UN, takes full responsibility for the other 20,000 to 40,000 other undocumented immigrants in the Bahamas.