The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20050
Dear Mr. President:
On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil rights coalition, I am writing to express my outrage over your administration’s treatment of refugees from Haiti who arrive on our shores. While asylum seekers from any other part of the world are generally released while they await asylum, people from Haiti have, since a policy change by your administration last December, been subjected to months of imprisonment while their cases are pending. I can think of few other actions taken by our federal government in recent decades that are so blatantly discriminatory and which so seriously call into question our nation’s commitment to civil rights. I strongly urge you to bring this policy to an end.
As an institution committed to civil rights, the LCCR has spoken out on issues affecting the rights of immigrants because our nation’s immigration laws have far too often been used as weapons against the weakest and least popular members of our society. In the past, immigrants were targeted by racist enactments such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the National Origins Act. Today, our country’s immigration policy towards Haitians is, sadly, no less shocking. While our country has made great strides in other aspects of civil rights, the treatment of Haitians under our immigration laws demonstrates that there is still, unfortunately, a persisting belief held by some in our country that it is somehow acceptable at times to redraw the lines of the Constitution to exclude groups of people from its guarantees.
It is perhaps the most simple, fundamental tenet of civil rights that our laws must be colorblind, and the current policy of requiring the detention of only Haitian refugees, and no others, makes a mockery of this principle. That alone is unconscionable. Yet the policy of detaining Haitians is profoundly unfair for another reason as well.
In particular, your administration has stated that the detention of Haitian asylees is necessary to deter a mass influx of Haitian immigrants. Yet using the threat of imprisonment to deter potential refugees undermines our tradition as a nation of immigrants ? and stands in stark contrast to not only the words inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty but those written in international law as well.
It is also a form of deterrence that simply cannot work. Haiti has not only faced decades of political turmoil and violence, but is also the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is inevitable that Haitians will continue trying to escape, because in too many cases their very lives depend on it, and it is unreasonable to think that the prospect of being detained for months will do anything to discourage them from this.
If it is truly in our national interest to deter immigrants from Haiti, we should do so by giving Haitians positive reasons to remain where they are by working harder to advance human rights and economic development. We certainly, however, should not do it by closing our doors and subjecting individual Haitians to months of cruel and humiliating treatment upon their arrival, punishing them like convicted felons when their only “crime” is seeking to be free. Thank you for your consideration.
Dr. Dorothy I. Height