Friday, August 13, 2004

“Psychotic Bush Policy” --- A closer look

This month the Bush administration has begun to enforce limits on foreign nationals who have overstayed their allowed time in this country. This is one of many responses prompted by the threats of international terrorism. Some of the rules are new, some long standing but previously seldom applied. Depending on whom you include, the number of persons who would be subject to these regulations may total in the millions.

Among those immediately affected is a group of some 300 refugees from the Soufriere Hills eruptions on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. After living as long as eight years under “Temporary Protected Status” they’ve been notified that their sojourn in the U.S. will end by next February.

The media and many liberals are portraying this as a xenophobic, brutal act, the sort of monstrous thing that only Republicans would stoop to. Many reports depict these refugees as victims of a racist decision to rid the U.S. of non-whites. Congressman Major Owens, D-NY, has energetically set about spreading this poisonous interpretation of events.

In a piece appearing under the by-line of Matthew Hay Brown, published by the Hartford Courant online circa 02 August 2004, this charge is made THREE TIMES by three different persons (including Owens) in an article of less than 1000 words. NYT contributor Nina Bernstein, in her longer but no less slanted article dated 09 August, gives more detail, but both Brown and Bernstein exclude several critical issues.

1) This action is NOT specifically directed at the Montserrat refugees. There are at any time many tens of thousands of foreign nationals legally present in the U.S., some on work visas, some on student or tourist visas, some as diplomats, sponsored immigrants applying for naturalization, some as refugees from persecution or natural disaster.

2) The island of Montserrat is a British overseas dependency. It’s Head of State is Queen Elizabeth II; her birthday is celebrated as the National Holiday! As British subjects, the Montserrat refugees would normally have the “right of abode” universal among British Commonwealth nationals, to freely relocate to the United Kingdom. It is not clear why the refugees living in the US chose to come here rather than evacuate to Britain. Evidently, having lived outside of British territory for so long has clouded their British status.

(Ms. Bernstein’s article indicates freedom of immigration didn’t apply to British overseas territories until 2002, but that is not consistent with the information I researched. I found information at an official site of the British government:

(3) As British subjects, their rescue and the restoration of their island is properly the responsibility of the British government, NOT of the U.S. So, returning them to British care cannot be characterized as a brutal act, unless it can be shown that the British government will do them harm.

4) In late August of 1997, the U.S. DoJ under Janet Reno made its initial offer to accept up to 1000 refugees. That offer explicitly allowed refugees already in the country as of 22 August work permits and a stay of up to one year. It was never intended as granting the refugees permanent residency, nor permanent work visas. [Paraphrase; My italics] (

While most people agree that it is vital for our country to apply much stricter control, scrutiny, and monitoring to the movements and activities of foreign nationals, the enforcement of even the rules in place prior to 9/11 inevitably imposes hardships on people who are innocent of wrongdoing, but whose status is not now and never was guaranteed to be permanent.

It’s useful to compare this episode to the U.S. interdiction of Haitian boatpeople on the High Seas, fer Pete’s sake. In 1990, the elder Bush administration and the U.N. pressed for presidential elections in Haiti, hoping to end a chaotic period of violence following the end of the two generations of dictators, “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest, had gained wide support in America, and with a lot of our help won the presidential election held that year.

But the TonTons Macoutes who had earlier helped keep the Duvaliers in power resisted with a prolonged campaign of intimidation, beatings and murders. In 1991-1992 an exodus of Haitians estimated over 40,000 fled by whatever boats they could find. Many craft never meant for open ocean spilled their occupants into the sea. Bush ordered US naval and coast guard vessels to intercept and rescue the boats, and transport survivors to the US base at Guantanamo, Cuba. When that filled with Haitian refugees, Bush decided to refuse further Haitians, because the policy of rescue and relocation even to CUBA, was encouraging an endless stream of refugees, many of whom were drowning before being detected by the rescue flotilla.

In the U.S. presidential election, Clinton criticized Bush’s policy, but once elected, he was unable to find any alternative, and continued the interdiction on the High Seas and forced repatriation of Haitian refugees. When human-rights groups called this a violation of the Geneva Convention, Clinton argued that Convention did not apply to refugees who had never reached U.S. soil. This view was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

There was a time before I made the effort of researching the matter that I indulged in saying that Clinton’s turning away of the Haitian refugees was a clear betrayal of every decent liberal sentiment he and the Democratic Party had proclaimed.

But things are rarely as simple as some folks would like us to believe.

It’s obviously too much of a miracle to hope that the liberals trying to smear Bush in this instance could take a breath and look a little deeper into the dilemma. Instead, with numbing predictability, they are ready to spread vicious distortions and outright lies without a moment’s pause, if they think it will increase their guy’s chances. But they should have a care. Contempt for truth is a two-edged blade that often cuts its own handler.


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