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U.S. REFUGEE POLICY: A COMPARISON OF HAITI AND CUBA DURING THE
COLD WAR AND POST-COLD WAR PERIODS
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
To my parents, whose continuing love and support is a thing of beauty
There are several people who have been extremely supportive during the writing of
this thesis. First, I would like to acknowledge my sincere appreciation for the generous
patience and guidance from my committee chairperson, Dr. Terry L. McCoy. I also wish
to thank Dr. Berta Esperanza Hernandez-Truyol, and Dr. David M. Hudson, who were
always available and extremely helpful, both as professors in the classroom and as
members of my committee.
My warmest thanks are also due to Brandon Knox, Larry McDowell, Drew
McLaughlin, and David Salisbury. Their constant support and friendship were essential
to the completion of this endeavor.
Finally, and most important of all, my deepest gratitude is for my parents, Paul and
Reisa George. Without their unfailing love and support, this study would not have been
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .............. .................... iv
AB S TRAC T ......_ ................. ..........._..._ viii..
1 INTTRODUCTION ................. ...............1.......... ......
Significance of the Study ................. ...............1................
Purpose and Design of the Study ................. ...............3...............
W ho is a Refugee? ............. ...............3.....
Definition of Terms .............. ...............4.....
Literature Review .............. ...............5.....
Refugee Law.................. .. .. ......... ........
U. S. Relations with Cuba and Haiti ................. ...............8............ ..
U. S. Relations with Haiti ................. ...............9............ ...
U.S. Relations with Cuba .............. ....... ...............10
Demographics of Cuban and Haitian Refugees ................. ........................1 1
U. S. Government Response to Cuban and Haitian Refugees ................... ...........13
Structure of the Study ................. ...............15.......... ....
2 DEVELOPMENT OF REFUGEE LAW ................. ...............17........... ...
International Refugee Law .............. ........ ..............1
Principal International Refugee Instruments ................ ......... ................17
The 1951 convention ................. ...............18........... ...
The 1967 protocol .............. ... .... ... ............2
Role of International Law in Domestic Courts .....__ ............... ... ........._...20
Development of U. S. Refugee Law ................. ...............21........... ..
U.S. Refugee Law: 1948-1980 .............. ...............22....
Parole Power and Executive Authority .............. ... ...............23..
The 1965 Attempts to Reform Domestic Refugee Law ................. ................ .24
Refugee Act of 1980...................... ....................2
Influence of Foreign Policy in Refugee Selection ................. ............ .........29
State Department Advisory Opinion .............. ...............30....
Sum m ary ................. ...............33.......... ......
3 CHARACTERISTICS OF CUBAN REFUGEES AND THEIR RECEPTION
AND TREATMENT IN THE UNITED STATES ......... ................ ...............35
Introducti on ................ ... ........... ...............35.......
United States Relations with Cuba ................ ........... ......... ........3
Characteristics of the Maj or Phases of Flight of Cuban Refugees ................... ..........39
Arrival of Cuban Refugees from 1959 to 1962 ................. ................ ......... .39
Arrival of Cuban Refugees from 1965 to 1973 .............. ..... ....... ...... ........._..41
Arrival of Cuban Refugees during the "Mariel Boatlift" of 1980 .....................43
Arrival of Cuban Refugees in the Post-Cold WarPeriod............... ................4
U. S.-Based Domestic Support for Cuban Refugees ....._____ .......___ ..............49
U. S. Public Opinion of Cuban Refugees............. ._.. ..........._._........._._. ....51
Changes in the Domestic Support for Cuban Refugees during the Post-Cold
War Period .............. ....... ...............54.
Human-rights Violations in Cuba............... ....... .............5
The U. S. Government' s Policy toward Cuban Refugees ..........._._. ............._._. .....57
U. S. Government Policy toward Cuban Refugees from 1959-1962 ........._........57
U.S. Government Policy toward Cuban Refugees from 1965 to 1973 ...............61
U.S. Government Policy toward Cuban Refugees during the Mariel Boatlift
of 1980 .............. .... ... .................. ...............6
U.S. Government Policy toward Cuban Refugees from 1990-2004 ...................68
Summary ................. ...............72.................
4 CHARACTERISTICS OF HAITIAN REFUGEES AND THEIR RECEPTION
AND TREATMENT IN THE UNITED STATES ........................... ...............74
Introducti on ................ ... ........... ...............74......
United States Relations with Haiti .................. ............ ..... .. ...............75....
Characteristics of the Maj or Phases of Flight of Haitian Refugees ................... .........79
Arrival of Haitian Refugees from 1957 to 1971.............. ...............80..
Arrival of Haitian Refugees from 1971-1980 .............. .. ...............81...
Arrival of Haitian Refugees in the Post-Cold War Period .............. ...............83
U. S.-Based Domestic Support for Haitian Refugees ......____ ..... ... ._ ..............84
Public Resentment and Racism toward Haitian Refugees ................ .................87
Early Success for Haitian Refugee Advocates in the Post-Cold War Period......88
Human-rights Violations in Haiti .................. ...............89..
U.S. Government Policy toward Haitian Refugees .............. ........... .............9
U. S. Government Economic Justification for Excluding Haitians ................... ...91
U. S. Government Policy toward Haitian Refugees before 1970 ................... ......92
U. S. Government Policy toward Haitian Refugees from 1970-1980 ................. .93
U.S. Government Policy toward Haitian Refugees Arriving during the Mariel
Boatlift of 1980 ................. .. ............ ............. ..... ..............9
U. S. Government Policy toward Haitian Refugees from 1981-1990 ................. .99
U. S. Government Policy toward Haitian Refugees from 1990-2004 ................100
Summary ................. ...............105................
5 CONCLUSION............... ...............10
M ain Findings ............... ... ... ........ ... .. ......... ........ .. ... ... ........0
Continuing Differentiation in the Application of U. S. Refugee Policy ............107
Development of Refugee Law ................. ............. ...... ... ....... ........ 11
Foreign Policy as a Determinant in U. S. Refugee Policy ................. ...............111
Domestic Factors as Determinants in U. S. Refugee Policy .............. ..... ..........112
U. S. Refugee Policy during the Cold War Period ................ ............. .......113
U. S. Refugee Policy during the Post-Cold War Period..........._ ... ...............1 14
Future Research and Recommendations for Policy-Makers ..............._ ................11 6
LIST OF REFERENCES ................. ...............117........_......
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ..............._ ...............122........_ ......
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
U.S. REFUGEE POLICY: A COMPARISON OF HAITI AND CUBA DURING THE
COLD WAR AND POST-COLD WAR PERIODS
Chair: Terry L. McCoy
Major Department: Latin American Studies
Since the end of WWII, the United States has been a maj or destination for refugees
fleeing for their safety, and the response of the U. S. government has covered the
spectrum, from instances of generous welcome to strict rej section. During the Cold War,
U. S. refugee policy was remarkably consistent in its acceptance of refugee populations
fleeing communist governments. Possibly more than any other groups, U.S. policy
regarding Cuban and Haitian refugees during the Cold War showed this unmistakable
pattern of differential treatment.
Three main factors have influenced the formulation of U. S. refugee policy toward
Cuban and Haitian refugees. The first, and most important, factor is the foreign policy
bias based on the United States' relationship with the governments of the countries from
which the refugees fled. Second, the demographic characteristics, notably the racial
make-up, of these two populations have affected their respective levels of admission by
the United States. Third, pressure from U.S.-based interests groups, vying for support of,
or resistance to the reception of refugee groups, has also been a factor in the ultimate
treatment of a refugee group at the hands of the U. S. government. These three factors
form the basis for understanding the formulation of greatly differing refugee policies
toward Cuban and Haitian refugee groups whose qualifications under refugee law are
Many of the political and social conflicts that caused the flight of refugees during
the Cold War have subsided, resulting in dramatically lower rates of refugees arriving
from some countries. However, the flow of Cuban and Haitian refugees since the end of
the Cold War has persisted. Post-Cold War developments in U.S. refugee policy toward
Cuban and Haitian refugees continued to exhibit a pattern of differential treatment;
however, there has been an important convergence in their reception in the United States.
While the anti-communist foreign policy continues to be a key influence on the
formulation of U. S. refugee policy; other factors, such as race and the pressure from
domestic interest groups are also of maj or significance. Collectively, these three factors
help to explain the differential treatment toward Cuban and Haitian refugees since the
1950s; and provide the basis for predicting and understanding the future of U. S. refugee
policy toward these two refugee groups.
Significance of the Study
The study of differential treatment of refugee groups within U.S. refugee policy is
based on political, legal, social, and economic dimensions. The development of the
refugee concept, for example, is inextricably connected to the greater question of the
relationship between migration and society in general. As long as there have been wars,
oppressive rulers, natural disasters, and economic deprivation, people have fled their
homeland in a desperate search for safety or improved economic conditions. Likewise,
as long as there have been refugees, there has been hospitality and xenophobia, open
doors and closed ports, standards and double standards. While the movement of people
in search of safety abroad is an old phenomenon, international refugee protection is a
relatively recent concept. Even though the development of refugee law and policy has
been driven by humanitarian principles, time has proven that the effective
implementation of refugee policies has been highly susceptible to political interference
and biases of host states. Possibly more than any other nation, the United States has
struggled with the role of a refugee-receiving state.
Since the end of WWII, the United States has been a maj or destination for refugees
fleeing for their safety, and the response of the U. S. government has covered the
spectrum, from instances of generous welcome to callous rej section. During the Cold
War, for example, U.S. refugee policy was remarkably consistent in its acceptance of
refugee populations fleeing communist governments. Scholarship in this area reflects a
consensus that, in the context of the Cold War, ideological preferences inherent in U.S.
foreign policy guided the application of a U. S. refugee policy. This domination of
foreign policy's influence over U.S. refugee policy was evident in the acceptance and
rej section rates among various refugee populations from Eastern Europe, Indochina, and
Central America (Loescher and Scanlan 1986). Possibly more than any other groups,
U.S. policy regarding Cuban and Haitian refugees during the Cold War showed this
unmistakable pattern of differential treatment. While foreign policy was clearly the
dominant influence in the formulation of U. S. refugee policy during the Cold War, other
important factors exist, including race, economics and domestic pressures.
Many of the political and social conflicts that caused the flight of refugees during
the Cold War have subsided, resulting in dramatically lower rates of refugees arriving
from some countries. However, the flow of Cuban and Haitian refugees since the end of
the Cold War has persisted. While the dominant reason for the differential treatment
between Cuban and Haitian refugees during the Cold War was the U.S. foreign policy
bias against communism, the explanation of differential treatment in the post-Cold War
era, and whether it will persist, remains unclear.
Current political and economic conditions in Cuba and Haiti are such that the
potential for a mass influx of refugees from these countries remains a real possibility. In
Haiti, former President Aristide fled the country in March, 2004, in the face of an
increasingly violent opposition that reduced the country to chaos and civil strife (Marquis
2004). In Cuba, Castro's reign of power may be in its twilight years, and a political
transition that will follow may have serious political and economic implications. The
threat of a new refugee crisis from these countries has important implications for the
citizens of the United States, and Florida residents in particular. Inevitably, a new flood
of refugees would cause serious financial costs, political turmoil, and social backlash; not
to mention the suffering of the refugees during their journey, and on arrival in the United
States. In 2004, the examination of the recurrent dilemma of Cuban and Haitian refugees
is as relevant and timely as it has ever been.
Purpose and Design of the Study
The purpose of the study was to develop an explanation of the differential treatment
by the U.S. government toward the two identified refugee populations during and after
the Cold War era. A logical hypothesis relating to this issue might be that, in the absence
of a guiding foreign policy preference toward refugees of communism, the differential
treatment between Cuban and Haitian refugees would have come to an end. To this end,
the central question of this study was whether (and to what extent) the pattern of
differential treatment of Haiti and Cuban refugees has persisted; and what factors explain
This thesis is a case study of U. S. refugee policy during the Cold War and post.
Cold War era, comparing the experiences of Cuban and Haitian refugees in the United
States. A cross-case analysis was conducted, relying primarily on documents, scholarly
articles and books relating to the experiences of Cuban and Haitian refugees.
Who is a Refugee?
While international treaties and domestic legislation have carefully codified the
official definition of refugee status as a person with a well-founded fear of persecution on
account of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion, this concept is subj ect to
various interpretations and meanings. The refugee concept is inevitably tied to the
greater theme of human migration in general; however, the refugee concept diverges
from other forms of voluntary migration. While the legal definition of refugee status
only recognizes certain sources of persecution or threats to persons as legitimate, the
contemporary usage of the refugee concept connotes the basic flight of persons from their
homeland in search of immediate safety from a variety of real threats to their lives. This
study addressed both the strict construction of the legal definition of refugee status, as
well as the more expansive usage of the refugee concept. Moreover, similar to the use of
various terms in the literature on the subj ect, this study uses the terms refugee and asylum
Definition of Terms
* Refugee: An alien outside of the United States who can demonstrate a well-
founded fear of persecution on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, or
* Asylum Seeker: An alien already in (or at the border of) the United States who can
demonstrated a well-founded fear of persecution on account of his of her race,
religion, nationality, or political opinion.
* Parole authority: The power held by the president of the United States to admit an
alien into the United States who has not gone through the asylum process, and does
not have any other legal claim for entry into the country.
* Interdiction: The practice used by the U.S. Coast Guard and other State, local, or
Federal Law Enforcement agencies to stop asylum seekers en route to the United
States and to prevent their entry.
* Domestic interest groups: Public and private advocacy groups who are supportive
of asylum seekers, as well as those public and private groups who are resentful of
and resistant to the resettlement of asylum seekers in the United States.
* Wet-foot dry-foot policy: The special policy for Cuban asylum seekers who will be
allowed to stay in the United States if they reach dry land; while Cubans, and all
other nationalities, that are interdicted at sea are sent back to their country of origin.
* Special humanitarian concern: The requirement that an alien applying for refugee
status while abroad must satisfy to be eligible for admission into the United States.
There has been no dearth of literature on the issue of refugee law and policy in the
United States. The issue of legal mechanisms codifying U.S. governmental duties to
recognize and possibly provide a safe haven to persons seeking protection from
persecution is one that involves economic, political, and social questions. During the
Cold War, various scholars documented a pattern of inconsistency and discrimination in
the application of U.S. refugee law to different refugee groups. Possibly more than any
other refugee populations, the comparison of Cuban and Haitian refugees exemplifies the
key factors leading to the pattern of differential treatment in U.S. refugee policy.
The comparative analysis of U.S. refugee policy toward Cuban and Haitian
refugees requires reference to literature on various subjects. First, an examination of the
development of international and refugee law and policy is necessary to provide the legal
implications and contours for this thesis. Similarly, an investigation of the nature of U. S.
governmental relations with the governments of Cuba and Haiti, of the demographic
make-up of the refugee populations, and of the level of domestic support or resistance to
the refugee populations was essential to this study. Equally important is information on
actual U. S. government responses to the arrival of the refugee populations. This section
provides an overview of the literature on these subj ects used as the formation of this
To fully understand the history and scope of refugee law and how it fits into the
greater body of immigration law, two sources stand out among the rest: Stephen
Legomsky's Immigration and Refugee Law and Policy; and Karen Musalo, Jennifer
Moore and Richard Boswell's, Refugee Law and Policy: A Comparative & International
Approach. Legomsky provided the most comprehensive legal text covering the entire
spectrum of immigration law in general. He detailed the maj or aspects of the history of
immigration in the United States, and the current legal framework governing immigration
law. His text examined all facets of immigration law, including historical, political,
economic, and social factors that have combined to mold the law into what it is today. A
large portion of his work focused on the development of refugee law in the United States
how it fits into the larger body of immigration law.
Musalo, Moore and Boswell's work was the most comprehensive text on the area
of refugee law to date. They focused primarily on the development of refugee law in
both international legal instruments and domestic law in the United States. Musalo,
Moore and Boswell described the emergence of the refugee concept and legal
codification from its origins in the aftermath of WWII, highlighting the original influence
of pro-Western political values in the crafting of the refugee definition 1951 Convention.
They outlined the implications of the geographical and temporal restrictions of the 195 1
Convention in the first years of its application and then the modifications of the 1967
United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Musalo, Moore and Boswell
then presented a thorough review of the development of U. S. refugee law, noting the
parallels and divergences in international refugee law. The work was largely a collection
of excerpts of scholarly articles accompanied by a discussion of their significance by
Musalo, Moore and Boswell. While Musalo, Moore and Boswell addressed the influence
of foreign and domestic factors on the implementation of U. S. refugee law, the bulk of
her text was dedicated to the statutory framework and procedural aspects for obtaining
asylum in the United States.
A series of other scholarly articles has elaborated upon the issue of the influence of
foreign policy and other factors on the application of U.S. refugee policy. Kathryn
Bockley's, A Historical Overview of Refugee Legislation: The Deception of Foreign
Policy in the Land of Promise, took the examination of the legal aspects of U. S. refugee
law a step further, noting the disjunction between U.S. refugee principles and the
application of U.S. refugee law. Bockley's discussion charted the development of U.S.
refugee law from the early legislative attempts and failures to devise a national policy
refugee policy, to the lingering problems and inconsistencies in the application of the first
comprehensive refugee legislation. Bockley underscored the importance of the use of
parole authority by presidents as a tool for circumventing the mandates of refugee
legislation; and the subsequent congressional attempt with the 1980 Refugee Act to
eliminate the use of parole and establish neutral principles for refugee selection. She then
discussed the significant problems of implementing the Refugee Act, noting in particular
the problems with the legal determination of refugee status and the continuing ability for
influence of foreign policy.
Many scholars refer to the vulnerability of refugee policy to the influences of
foreign policy and related prerogatives of the U. S. government. Several important
articles, in particular, detail the manner in which this executive interference has occurred.
Richard Preston's article, "Asylum Adjudications: Do State Department Advisory
Opinions Violate Refugees' Rights And U.S. International Obligations?" addressed the
problems presented by the U.S. State Department advisory opinions in individual asylum
applications. Similarly, Davalene Cooper' s article, "Promised Land or Land of Broken
Promises? Political Asylum in the United States," examined the function of judicial
oversight, and the legislative and administrative framework of the asylum process in light
of the failure of the Refugee Act to eliminate political and ideological bias. David
Forsythe' s book, The Politics of International Law, added to the discussion of the
interplay between international law, U.S. foreign policy and international relations.
Among other issues, Forsythe examined the efforts of the presidential branches to devise
refugee policies consistent with political goals of extending asylum to some groups and
not to others, based on then current foreign policy.
U.S. Relations with Cuba and Haiti
The nature of U. S. governmental relations with Haiti and Cuba has been the
fundamental variable in the comparative analysis of U. S. refugee policy toward Haitian
and Cuban refugees. Scholars have generally agreed that during the Cold War the
predominant distinguishing factor between on the formation of U. S. refugee policy
toward Haitian and Cuban refugees was U.S. relations with the two countries, which
sharply diverged along the ideological line of Cold War politics. The significance of
U.S. policy toward the two governments, however, extends beyond the mere assessment
of a particular country's ideological posture. An overview of the country conditions and
records of human-rights violations existing in Haiti and Cuba was also important to
understanding the extent to which U.S. foreign policy agenda has biased its refugee
policy. There was abundant literature available on both the history of U.S. governmental
relations with Haiti and Cuba, and on the particular country conditions propelling the
flight of Haitian and Cuban citizens. Juxtaposing the accounts of U.S. policy toward
these two governments, in light of each nation' s particular records of persecution and
human-rights violations, supports the assertion of many scholars that U. S. refugee policy
during the Cold War was guided by a foreign policy bias in favor of refugees fleeing
U.S. Relations with Haiti
James Ferguson, Papa Doc, Baby Doc: Haiti and the Duvaliers, illustrated how the
pattern of U. S. intervention in Haitian affairs persisted after the end of the occupation.
Ferguson documented the role of U. S. military and financial aid to successive Haitian
presidents leading up to and during the rule of "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Ferguson covered
the rise and fall of the Duvalier regimes; highlighting the brutality of both the Papa Doc
and Baby Doc regimes and arguing that their staying power was largely attributable to
Although the history of U. S.-Haitian relations in the post-Cold War era was still
being written at the time of the current study, and no single work captured the
developments since the fall of the Baby Doc regime, several scholars provided an up-to.
date account of the U.S.-Haiti governmental relations. Among others, Naomi Zucker and
Norman Zucker' s book, Desperate Crossings, covered the U.S.-Haitian governmental
relations from the fall of Baby Doc in 1986, until the reinstatement of Aristide in 1994.
Zucker and Zucker provided a close look at the turbulent events after the election and
subsequent overthrow of Aristide, with special attention to the effect of the threat of a
mass exodus of Haitian refugees on the U.S. foreign policy toward Haiti. The best
information on the most recent developments in U.S.-Haiti relations was taken from
articles found in major newspapers and governmental and nongovernmental
U.S. Relations with Cuba
As U. S.-Cuban relations were a focal point of foreign policy in the United States
for the duration of the Cold War and beyond, there was an abundance of scholarly
writings on the subj ect. Felix Masud-Piloto' s From Welcome Exiles to Illegal
Immigrants, for example, presented an excellent review of the political conflict between
the U.S. and Cuban governments. His analysis focused on the two governments'
attempted to use the issue of Cuban migration to the United States in ways calculated to
gain political mileage against one another. Masud-Piloto's description of the political
struggle behind the flow of Cuban refugees to the United States since 1959 revealed a
clear picture of the ideological and geopolitical factors behind the nations' nearly fifty
Other scholars have examined the nature of the hostility between the United States
and Cuba, covering various military, political and economic approaches the U.S.
government has employed against Cuba. Jorge Dominguez's article, "U.S.-Cuban
Relations in the 1980s, Issues and Policies," tracked the U.S. policy toward Cuba in the
context of the Soviet-Cuban military relations. Dominguez described the omnipresent
danger of Cold War tensions deteriorating into warfare and the subsequent implications
this threat had on U.S. policy-makers' decisions.
In a later article, "U. S.-Cuban Relations: From the Cold War to the Colder War,"
Dominguez examined the historic pattern of U. S. policy toward Cuba in the context of
Cuba's political and economic contraction in the post-Cold War. Dominguez outlined
the maj or changes in Cuba' s position after the fall of the Soviet Union, and explored the
reasons for a sharp contrast in U.S. policy toward Cuba as opposed to other previous
Cold War adversaries. Dominguez presented and discussed various explanations for
post-Cold War U. S. policy toward Cuba, including consideration of the shift in the
ideology and power distribution within theinternational system, as well as domestic
politics within Cuba and the United States.
William M. Leogrande' s article, "From Havana to Miami: U. S. Cuba policy as a
Two Level Game," expanded upon the post-Cold War state of U. S.-Cuba relations in the
model of international affairs as a "two-level game." In so doing, Leogrande emphasized
the dual importance of negotiations between opposing nations' policy-makers, and
interaction between these policy-makers and their own domestic constituencies.
Leogrande's article reasons that U.S. policy toward Cuba in the post-Cold War is a result
of the combination of a perceived opening to press for the promotion of democracy in the
absence of security issues, and the pressure from domestic groups resistant to any
normalization of relations with Castro.
Demographics of Cuban and Haitian Refugees
The best information available on the demographic make-up of the Cuban refugee
populations was found in the works of Juan Clark, The Exodus from Revolutionary Cuba
(1959-1974): A Sociological Analysis, and The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty.
Clark' s dissertation on the Cuban exodus examined in detail the socio-demographic
background of the escaping Cubans. Clark considered numerous variables, including
occupational history, educational status, age, income levels, race and sex. He analyzed
the difference among these variables during the different episodes of major flight of
Cuban refugees from the revolution in 1959 until the end of the Freedom Flights in 1974.
Juan Clark' s, Voyage of Uncertainty, provided the most recent account of the
demographic make-up of Cuban arrivals. Felix Masud-Piloto's, From Welcome Exiles to
Illegal Immigrants, and Marica Cristina Garcia, Havana USA offered insight into the
demographic shift, as well as the introduction of so-called undesirables into the refugee
population, beginning with thel980 Mariel Boatlift.
Marica Cristina Garcia' s book, Havana USA, provided the best analysis of the
domestic influence of the Cuban-American community. The seminal work on the Cuban.
American exile community, Havana USA detailed the development, successes and
shortcomings of the Cuban-American emigre community from the first refugees in the
aftermath of the Cuban Revolution to the 1994 exodus. Her work examined the sources
of unity within the Cuban-American community, the efforts to preserve a cultural
identity, and the emergence of a powerful and sophisticated political lobby. Garcia also
drew attention to the areas of discord and disunity within the Cuban-American
community regarding exile politics. On the other hand, other writings, such as the
Zuckers' Desperate Crossings and Loescher and Scanlan's Calculated Kindness, revealed
an important and often underestimated level of public resistance to Cuban refugees.
While many scholars have emphasized the high level of acceptance afforded to Cuban
refugees as compared to other refugee groups, Desperate Crossings and Calculated
Kindness provided an account of the scope and implications of local resentment toward
the admission and resettlement of Cuban refugees.
In contrast with the more voluminous research on the demographic attributes of
Cuban refugees, information on Haitian refugees was less abundant. Most of the
available literature reflected only sparingly on the particular characteristics of Haitian
arrivals, beyond simple generalizations that most are poor, uneducated and black.
Loescher and Scanlan's Calculated Kindness, Jocelyn McCalla's The Haitian Refugee
Crisis: Origins Causes and Responses, and Jake Miller' s The Plight of Haitian Refugees
combined to provide the best picture possible of the demographic make-up of Haitian
refugees. Loescher and Scanlan and McCalla showed that the second major phase of
Haitian flight, beginning in 1972, revealed a significant shift in the educational and
occupational status compared to the earlier arrivals who were generally welcomed.
Miller' s work covered the various aspects contributing to the pattern of Haitian
flight, ranging from the political, social, economic, and human-rights conditions. His
discussion of the early level of domestic support present in the United States for Haitian
asylum seekers was particularly insightful. Miller showed that the problem was not that
the Haitian asylum seekers were lacking a domestic support network before the 1990s.
There were several organizations dedicated to their advocacy, and multiple successful
legal challenges to U.S. refugee procedures perpetuating the pattern of discriminatory
treatment toward Haitian refugees; however, as Miller pointed out, these efforts were
largely ineffective. The Zuckers explained in Desperate Crossings, that the U.S. based
support network for Haitian refugees made significant progress in the early 1990s. While
various factors were at play in the 1994 Haitian refugee crisis, it is indisputable that the
level of domestic advocacy on behalf of the Haitian refugees had an effect on the policy
decisions of the Clinton Administration.
U.S. Government Response to Cuban and Haitian Refugees
There is no dearth of literature on the coverage of particular U. S. government
responses to both Cuban and Haitian refugees. A number of books and scholarly articles
have analyzed the various policy approaches to the arrival of refugees over the past fifty
years. Principal among these are Loescher and Scanlan's works, namely, Calculated
Kindness: Refugees and America's Half-Open Door, and the Zuckers' Desperate
Crossings and Guarded Gates. Loescher and Scanlan documented the history of U.S.
refugee policy through the Cold War, from the refugee flows in the aftermath of WWII,
to the most recent arrivals at the time of the books publication in 1986. While their work
addressed all the maj or influxes of different groups, special attention is dedicated to the
Cuban and Haitian refugees. Their work was supported by numerous scholarly articles,
including a host of law review articles that are highly critical of the U. S. treatment of
Haitian refugees (Miranda 1995; Lennox 1993; Zink 1998; Villiers 1994).
The Zuckers' Desperate Crossings took the presentation of U. S. refugee policy into
the post-Cold War era. The authors argued that the traditional dominance of foreign
policy in the formulation of refugee policy, while still important, will be diminished in
the absence of Cold War ideological tension. According to the Zuckers, domestic
pressures, both in the form of local resentment and advocacy groups, and the costs of
resettlement will increasingly be considered by refugee policy-makers. The Zuckers'
position was supported by Kathy Newland' s article, "The Impact of US Refugee Policies
on US Foreign Policy: A Case of the Tail Wagging the Dog?" Newland took the analysis
of the domestic pressure group's effect on the formulation of U. S. refugee policy a step
further. Newland argued that governmental efforts to control or prevent refugee flows
was no longer guided by foreign policy obj ectives, but that in fact, the U. S. foreign policy
agenda has become increasingly influenced by the threat of new waves of mass refugee
arrivals. She contended that, in this scenario, the relative pressure of domestic interests,
both supportive of and opposed to a particular refugee group, will play a maj or role in the
response of the U. S. government in its refugee policy and in its foreign policy toward the
country from which the refugees are fleeing.
While there was no shortage of analysis of the experiences of Cuban and Haitian
refugees during the Cold War, no single study has provided an in depth comparative
analysis of Cuban and Haitian refugees. Further, relatively few scholars have covered the
developments in U. S. refugee policy regarding these two groups since the end of the Cold
War. This work contributes to the existing literature by providing both a legal and
political analysis of the changes and stability of U.S. refugee policy toward Cuban and
Haitian refugee populations since the end of the Cold War.
Structure of the Study
Chapter 2 provides an overview of the development of both international refugee
treaties and domestic U.S. refugee laws, noting important areas of congruence and
divergence between the two. This will include a discussion of the sometimes ambiguous
and varying interpretations of the refugee concept. Further, Chapter 2 addressed the
potential of refugee law and policy to be used as a mechanism for admitting some
refugees who do not necessarily qualify as for refugee status, or alternatively, for
excluding and deporting others with strong qualifications.
Chapter 3 and 4 describe the various factors that have influenced the formation of
U.S. refugee policy toward Cubans and Haitians. The historical relations between the
United States and Cuba and Haiti play a key role in the formulation of refugee policy.
Similarly, demographic characteristics of the Cuban and Haitian refugee populations,
such as race, level of education, occupational skills, wealth and health inevitably affect
their respective levels of admission by the United States. To a lesser extent, but still
importantly, the size and strength of refugee resettlement communities and other
domestic advocacy groups can be influential in the development of refugee policy.
Chapter 3 first reviews the history of foreign relations between the United States
and Cuba. Next, this chapter documents the maj or waves of migration, as well as
explores the pertinent attributes, of Cuban refugees to the United States. Chapter 3 also
documents the size and influence of the U. S. based Cuban-American community and
advocacy groups. Finally, Chapter 3 details the reception and treatment afforded to the
Cuban refugees by the U.S. government from 1959 to 2004.
Chapter 4 discusses the various factors which have contributed to the pattern of
differential treatment afforded to Haitian refugees by the U.S. government, when
compared to Cuban refugees. Chapter 4 first details the nature of U. S.-Haitian
governmental relations, with attention to the tolerance by the U. S. government of human.
rights violations in Haiti. Second, Chapter 4 documents the maj or waves of migration
from Haiti to the United States, noting the particular characteristics of the arriving
refugees. Third, Chapter 4 examines the deficit of U.S.-based support for the Haitian
refugee community. Finally, Chapter 4 reviews the U.S. government policy toward
Haitian refugees since 1957.
Chapters 5 concludes the study with an analysis of the differential treatment of
Cuban and Haitian refugees in U.S. refugee policy today and implications for the future
of U. S. refugee policy regarding these two groups of refugees.
DEVELOPMENT OF REFUGEE LAW
International Refugee Law
Throughout the age-old movement of peoples across borders in search of different
social, economic and political circumstances, host states have met migrants with both
acceptance and rejection. States, as sovereigns, have held the power to control their own
borders, choosing either to exclude or to welcome foreigners in the name of protecting of
their own nationals (Forsythe 1990: 89). Until relatively recently, states were under no
legal obligation to accord special status or treatment to those persons fleeing life.
threatening persecution as compared with migrants moving voluntarily. Differential
treatment of Cuban and Haitian refugees in U.S. refugee policy has political, legal, social
and economic elements. This chapter provides an overview of the development of both
international refugee treaties and domestic U.S. refugee laws, noting important areas of
congruence and divergence between the two.
Principal International Refugee Instruments
While humans have always fled repression, international treaties established to
provide protection to refugees are a distinctly modem concept (Legomsky 2002: 854). In
the wake of WWI, the League of Nations' made the first efforts to tackle the problems
associated with forced movement of massive numbers of displaced people (Musalo,
Moore and Boswell 1997: 19). Later, at the end of World War II, the international
community created the first international agency that dealt comprehensively with the
legal and political protection of refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (Musalo, Moore and Boswell 1997: 32). The UNHCR has produced two maj or
legal instruments designed to establish the international definition of refugee status and
the legal obligations upon states resulting from this status.
The 1951 convention
In 1951, the United Nations adopted the Convention Relating to the Status of
Refugees (19 U.S.T. 6259, 189 U.N.T.S. 150, 1951, hereinafter 1951 Convention),
paying the way for a universal definition for refugee status and a codification of national
obligations toward such refugees (Musalo, Moore and Boswell 1997: 40). After much
debate, the Convention refugee definition was established:
"Any person, who, as a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing
to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality or
political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to
such fear or for reasons other than personal convenience, is unwilling to avail
himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having nationality and being
outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such
fear or for reasons other than personal convenience, is unwilling to return to it."
(Art. 1, 1951 Convention)
In addition to creating the framework for international refugee status, the
Convention established various obligations on states (Art. 3-30, 1951 Convention).
Articles 3 through 30 of the Convention required states to provide various protections to
refugees within their borders, including nondiscrimination, religious freedom, access to
court, and free movement within the country (Art. 3-30, 1951 Convention). Article 31
stated that refugees cannot be penalized for illegally entering a country when they were
fleeing a place where "their life or freedom was threatened" (Art. 31, 1951 Convention).
Further, Articles 3 1 and 33 codified the international principle of non-refoulment. Non.
refoulement conferred the duty upon states to refrain from returning anyone who was
within the state's borders back to a perilous situation where his or her life or safety would
be in j eopardy, whether or not the person qualified as a refugee (Goodwin-Gill 1983).
Though the Convention refugee definition purported to be designed with a
humanitarian purpose, the scope of the protections for refugees was actually quite limited
and strategically infused with pro-Western political values (Musalo, Moore and Boswell
1997: 34). This definition restricted refugee status, and thus protection, to those persons
whose flight was caused by the fear of persecution on grounds of civil or political
oppression (Musalo, Moore and Boswell 1997: 35). Geographical and temporal
restrictions in the original version of the Convention, namely the focus on pre-1951
events within Europe, exposed a flagrant eurocentric approach (Zucker and Zucker 1996:
34). "Groundbreaking in its time, the convention anticipated neither the wider grounds
that today force individuals into flight nor the resistance of many signatories to meet their
obligations fully" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 131).
It is also important to note that, under international law, the rights of refugees are
triggered only when a state has granted them asylum (Musalo, Moore and Boswell 1997:
40). The discretionary nature of the Convention regarding refugee admission gave states
significant room to afford these protections based on a particular nations' political,
ideological and geographical biases (Legomsky 2002: 33-35). Article 1 of the 195 1
Convention did not regulate the granting of asylum, nor did it obligate a state to grant
asylum to a person who satisfies the definition of a refugee (Art. 1, 1951 Convention).
In other words, even if a state determined that an individual satisfied the requirements for
refugee status, the state was not under any obligation to accept the individual or provide
asylum within its own borders. Thus, while the Convention paved the way for
individuals fleeing their homelands due to a well-founded fear of persecution to obtain
refugee status, it allowed potential host countries to lock them out (Zucker and Zucker
The 1967 protocol
These built-in biases remained unchanged until the 1967 United Nations Protocol
Relating to the Status of Refugees (Protocol) expanded the scope of the Convention
definition to encompass refugees from anywhere in the world (19 U.S.T. 6223, 606
U.N.T.S. 267, 1967, hereinafter Protocol). Article 1 of the Protocol eliminated the
temporal requirements of the Convention which had restricted refugee protection to those
refugees who had fled before 1951 (Article 1, Protocol). Similarly, the Protocol removed
the geographical requirement that limited refugee protection to Europeans (Article 1,
Protocol). Finally, the Protocol got rid of the overt ideological prerequisite that the
refugee be fleeing communist persecution (Article 1, Protocol). The net effect of the
restrictive language in international refugee doctrine has been that persons fleeing for
reasons such as natural disaster, war, or broadly based political and economic crises were
essentially precluded from obtaining refugee status (Musalo, Moore and Boswell 1997:
35). Proponents of the expansion of the refugee concept to incorporate persons fleeing a
broader range of dangers contend that the international refugee definition needs to be
Role of International Law in Domestic Courts
Before examining the development of U.S. refugee law, it is essential to understand
the effect of international treaties and principles on U. S. domestic j uri sprudence.
Generally, states incorporate international treaties into domestic law in one of two ways:
either by automatically adopting the legal obligations imposed by treaty law into
domestic law; or alternatively, by requiring the passing of specific domestic legislation in
order for the legal obligations to be enforceable in domestic courts (Zink 1998: 564). The
United States approach merges these two models in a unique fashion. While, on the
surface, the U. S. Constitution declares that treaties are the supreme law of the land, the
doctrine of self-executing treaties provides a significant caveat (Zink 1998: 576). Under
this doctrine, a treaty is considered to be the equivalent of domestic legislation unless it is
deemed to be non self-executing, in which case it would not create a cause of action in
U.S. courts without Congress first expressly adopting the treaty provisions in legislation
(Zink 1998: 565). The United States deemed the 1967 Protocol to be non self executing
and thus did not consider the legal obligations it pronounced to be binding in domestic
U.S. courts without Congress passing independent legislation adopting the treaty
provisions (Zink 1998: 577).
Development of U.S. Refugee Law
This country has always served as a lantern in the dark for those who love freedom
but are persecuted, in misery, or in need (John F. Kennedy, July 1961 in Masud.
Piloto 1996: 44).
Can we doubt that only a divine Providence placed this land, this land of freedom,
here as a refuge for all those people in the world who yearn to breathe free? Jews
and Christians enduring persecution behind the Iron Curtain, the boat people of
Southeast Asia, Cuba, and Haiti (Ronald Reagan, July 1980 in Loescher and
Scanlan 1986: 188).
Ronald Reagan' s proud declaration of the U. S. position as a beacon of light in a
dark night for the persecuted and oppressed of the world certainly resonated in the psyche
and hearts of many Americans. Citizens of the United States embrace the notion that
their country rests on a rich tradition of openness to those fleeing persecution, regardless
of race, nationality, or creed. However, over the years, congress and presidents have
found that the U.S. promise of providing a refuge and humanitarian support to the
oppressed was often at odds with various interests. National security, economic, or social
concerns, foreign policy, limited resources, and an intolerant and resentful public, have
all, at times, caused U.S. policy to deviate from the ideal of being the world's "lantern in
the dark for those who love freedom," as President Kennedy phrased it.
While the United States proudly bears the title of a nation of immigrants, a closer
look reveals that the history of U. S. refugee policy has been slow to emerge and often
subject to nativist and racist opposition to the reception of different groups. While the
political, social and economic dimensions have changed over time, the development of
U.S. refugee law has consistently been shaped by the struggle between restrictionist
groups' desires to keep refugees out, and other advocacy groups' interest in welcoming
refugees. During the formative years of the international refugee regime, restrictionist
groups objected vociferously to the resettlement of displaced persons (Divine 1957).
U.S. statutes in the 1800s, for example, explicitly targeted Asians for exclusion and
deportation; after World War I, the imposition of national origins quotas restricted the
entry of Southern and Eastemn Europeans; and after World War II, thousands of Nazi
victims desperately seeking refuge were turned away (Musalo, Moore and Boswell 1997:
62). Before 1948, the United States stood by idly as the international community
struggled to address the rising tide of refugees; the United States was not a signatory to
any international treaty and had yet to pass any domestic law to aid or admit any group of
refugees (Musalo, Moore and Boswell 1997: 64).
U.S. Refugee Law: 1948-1980
Prompted largely by the problem of massive dislocation of people in the wake of
World War II, the United States passed the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 (Pub. L. No.
775, 2(b), 62 Stat. 1009, 1948). While some proponents of this legislation cited moral
and humanitarian reasons, others' support for the country's first refugee law was driven
by a deliberate ideological strategy aimed at relieving population pressure on European
countries that would be critical allies against communism (Divine 1957). The 1948
legislation allowed 400,000 refugees to enter the United States and ended the previous
policy which excluded Jewish refugees fleeing anti-Semitism (Legomsky 2002: 858).
With the Displaced Person Act, Congress made the first of several legislative attempts to
design a national refugee policy; however, this legislation would soon prove unable to
comprehensively address the refugee problem. In the following years, the United States
continued to modify and adjust its refugee policy, on an ad hoc basis, to manage specific
crises, but still did not have a statute generally authorizing the admission of refugees
(Churgin 1996: 314).
Parole Power and Executive Authority
With the Refugee Relief Acts of 1953 and 1954, the United States opened its gates
to over 200,000 refugees and paved the way for the admission of vast numbers of
refugees on an ad hoc basis. With the Immigration and Nationality Act (INTA), Congress
gave the executive branch the power to parole significant numbers of refugees without
having to consider or accept congressional input. Initially intended by Congress to
address individual isolated instances of extreme hardship, parole allowed U.S. presidents
to provide temporary, discretionary admission to aliens who would have otherwise been
excluded by the narrow refugee definition (INTA @ 212(2), 8 U. S.C.A @ 1182). The parole
mechanism was significant in that it was a temporary arrangement and thus did not
represent an official and permanent entry into the United States. This meant that the
parolee's status and safe haven could be terminated at any time (INA @ 212(2)(5), 8
U.S.C.A @ 1182). In 1956, President Eisenhower's parole of upwards of 40,000
Hungarians was the first maj or use of the parole power (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 68).
Soon thereafter, President Kennedy followed suit with his parole of several hundred
thousand Cubans in the aftermath of the Cuban revolution (Loescher and Scanlan 1986:
68). The granting of parole did not automatically bestow permanent residency on an
alien; instead, Congress would have to pass special legislation to adjust a specific groups'
immigrant status (Churgin 1996: 314).
These maj or immigration policy determinations, which had previously required
congressional authorization, were suddenly matters of executive power (Loescher and
Scanlan 1986: 68). "Most decisions to admit refugees were initiated in the Department
of State to meet specific foreign policy concerns approved by the President and then were
submitted to key Congressional leaders for rubber-stamp approval" (Loescher and
Scanlan 1986: 68). While Congress demonstrated its general approval of the parole
system by allowing it to exist for over twenty years, Congress also considered parole to
be a barrier to the formulation of a consistent refugee policy and that its original intent
had been abused by successive presidential administrations (Anker and Posner 1981: 30.
33). Mounting concerns from Congress in the early 1960s, particularly regarding the
costs of ad hoc legislation in cases of immigration emergencies, presented the executive
branch with the mandate for reform (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 68).
The 1965 Attempts to Reform Domestic Refugee Law
In 1965, Congress, attempting to assert its right to oversee refugee matters,
eliminated the forty year-old National Origins Quota Law and replaced it with an
emphasis on the promotion of family unification (Pub. L. 89-236). With the 1965
amendments, Congress provided permanent statutory basis for the admission of refugees
fleeing persecution from a "Communist-dominated" country (Pub. L. 89-236, @3, 79 Stat.
911, 913 1965). U.S. presidents disregarded the congressional attempt to limit the
executive branch's ability to use the parole power and continued to parole refugees. The
flaws inherent in the 1965 amendments became rapidly apparent. The statutory
allotment for refugees fleeing "Communist-dominated" countries was deemed
insufficient at 6% of the total immigration slots. Moreover, the legislation's overt
ideological bias toward refugees fleeing Communist-dominated countries soon became
incompatible with the principles exposed by the United Nations' 1967 Protocol, to which
the United States would become a signatory three years later (Legomsky 2002: 861).
As a signatory to the 1967 Protocol, the United States assumed various obligations
for the protection of refugees. Ostensibly, acts such as the forcible return of a refugee,
and ideologically biased admission policies, would not only thwart carefully crafted
international agreements, but would also be direct violations of U.S. domestic law.
While this would appear to have established a neutral and reliable refugee policy, recent
history has shown that the protective legal mechanisms have been repeatedly ignored
(Fitzpatrick 1997: 11). The United States considered the 1967 Protocol to be a non self
executing treaty and, consequently, any violations of the principles of the treaty were not
enforceable in the courts of the United States without domestic legislation specifically
incorporating the treaty (Zink 1998: 577). Thus, the paramount determination of the
granting of refugee status, and oversight of the admission process, remained exclusively
within the domain of United States law.
The net effect of this caveat regarding refugee protection was that the United States
could sidestep humanitarian safeguards within refugee law and grant asylum based on
strategic political interests. The reasons why the United States acceded to the protocol
were not obvious and most likely primarily symbolic, as a sign of good faith in the
United Nations' humanitarian focus (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 83). "Certainly the
Department of State, in its testimony advocating ratification of the protocol, believed that
nothing in it would significantly alter the nation's obligations to refugees or require any
changes in U.S. administrative practice" (Loescher and Scanlan 83). While President
Johnson stated that the Protocol was a refugee' s "Bill of Rights," the sincerity of the U. S.
commitment under the 1967 Protocol seems to have been less than compelling (Loescher
and Scanlan 1986: 83). "It is sobering to gauge how frequently U.S. refugee law is at
odds with international norms, even when international standard is clear and preemptory"
(Fitzpatrick 1997: 25).
Despite the 1965 reforms and the accession to the Protocol, between 1967 and 1980
U.S. presidents continued to use the parole power to selectively admit hundreds of
thousands of refugees from Cuba, Indochina, and other zones of Soviet influence; while
at the same time the U.S. excluded untold numbers of others fleeing areas not under
communist control, such as Haiti (Legomsky 2002: 861). As the parole process persisted
in facilitating the admission of large numbers of people based explicitly on ideological
biases, it became progressively more controversial, and in large part triggered the
formation of the most important and comprehensive reform of refugee law in U. S.
Refugee Act of 1980
In an attempt to assert control of the management of refugee matters, Congress
passed what became the principal U.S. refugee legislation, the Refugee Act of 1980
(Refugee Act) (Pub. L. No. 96-212, 94 Stat. 102). By formally adopting the United
Nations Protocol, replacing prior ideological preferences with a neutral system of refugee
selection, and crafting a congressional role in the refugee process, the Refugee Act
appeared to be a monumental change to the political and legal elements of refugee policy.
The Refugee Act set out to establish a uniform and unbiased standard for the
admission of refugees. Hailed as "one of the most important pieces of humanitarian
legislation ever enacted by a U.S. Congress" (Bockley 1995: 271), the Refugee Act took
aim at the old geopolitically and ideologically biased refugee definition, as well as the
practice of executive discretion in the refugee admission process (Tyson 1990: 921).
With the Refugee Act, Congress modeled the statutory definition of refugee status after
the United Nations 1967 Protocol: any person who is outside any country of such
person's nationality .. who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling
to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a
well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in
a particular social group, or political opinion (8 U.S.C.A. @ 1158; 102; Pingeton 1999:
Congress also endeavored to substantially diminish the use of the parole authority.
Accordingly, the Refugee Act established two channels for admission of refugees, annual
resettlement quotas and emergency procedures (Bockley 1995). Under the Refugee Act,
the "normal flow" of refugee admissions each year, which also specified the allocation of
refugee numbers for particular countries, was allocated by executive determination (Pub.
L. No. 96-212, 94 Stat. 102). However, importantly, the legislation required that the
president consult with Congress before making the determination of the numerical limit
to be placed on refugee admissions (Pub. L. No. 96-212; Bockley 1995: 862).
The second component of the Refugee Act supplemented the "normal flow" of
refugees with provisions for emergency parole. However, the parole provisions
contained in the Refugee Act contrasted sharply with those which had been abused by
presidential administrations for several decades. Congress restrained the prior excesses
of parole authority by designing a flexible emergency admissions procedure that
restricted parole to situations where "compelling reasons in the public interest with
respect to that particular alien require that the alien be paroled into the United States
rather than be admitted as a refugee" (Pub. L. No. 96-212, 94 Stat. 102, now INA @
207(d), 8 U.S.C.A. @ 1157; Bockley 1995: 282). Section 212(d)(5)(B) of the INA, 8
U. S.C.A. 1182, further states that the Attorney General may not parole a refugee into the
United States, "unless the Attorney General determines that compelling reasons in the
public interest with respect to that particular alien require that the alien be paroled into
the United States rather than be admitted as a refugee" (INA @ 212(d)(5)(B), 8 U.S.C.A.
1182). Thus, current immigration statutes provide that the use of the parole power rarely
be employed to admit refugees; however, Presidents could effectively parole in aliens,
who would otherwise be deemed a refugee, under another immigrant status.
These and other significant modifications to the nation's refugee policy were
designed with the assumption that the basic make-up of the refugee population flows
would not change significantly. Thus, despite the humanitarian undertones of the
Refugee Act, the legislation was designed to respond to the basic refugee formula of the
preceding decades. Two changes in the refugee arena, however, would prove to present
maj or challenges to the Refugee Act' s capacity to manage the nation' s refugee process.
First, policymakers had no way of anticipating that the previous pattern of individual
refugee applicants would be eclipsed by the phenomenon of mass flight. Similarly, while
the main origins of refugees and the causes of their flight had previously originated in
distant continents, U.S. policy makers soon found themselves confronted with the
predicament of refugee groups arriving from countries close by. This potent combination
of proximity and volume would prove to generate enormous troubles for the policy
makers who would inherit the Refugee Act as the basis of the nation' s refugee policy.
Another contribution of the Refugee Act was the codification of a distinction
between the concepts of refugee status and political asylum. Before 1980, there was no
legal distinction in international or U. S. refugee law between those aliens who sought
refugee status while abroad, compared with those who had already reached the
boundaries of the United States. "The UN convention and the 1967 protocol clearly state
that refugees be outside their country of origin, yet the vast maj ority of refugees received
by the United States have come not from refugee camps or countries of first asylum, but
directly to the United States" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 43). The Refugee Act marked a
turning point in U.S. refugee law by creating a legal distinction between those aliens who
were outside of the United States seeking admission, refugees, and those who had already
entered the United States and sought to remain and attain legal status, political asylee
(Pub. L. No. 96-212, 94 Stat. 102). In contrast with earlier patterns of refugee movement,
beginning in the 1970s the United States experienced an increase in the numbers of aliens
who had independently reached the U.S. border seeking asylum (Zucker and Zucker
Influence of Foreign Policy in Refugee Selection
The chief differentiating factor between a refugee and an asylee is determined by
the alien's physical location at the time they request asylum. While substantively alike,
the methods by which the foreign policy bias touches the two are different. As opposed
to aliens seeking asylum in the United States, applicants for refugee status while abroad
needs to be of "special humanitarian concern" to the United States, essentially that they
are from a geographical region or priority group (8 U. S.C.A. (1157). The ability of the
U. S. government to restrict the granting of refugee status to only those aliens considered
to be of "special humanitarian concern" has kept the refugee process open to the infusion
particular ideological preferences for or against aliens fleeing certain geographical
regions or particular governmental systems. Conversely, while asylum seekers, already
present in the United States, do not need to establish that they are of "special
humanitarian concern," interference by the State Department ensures that they are equally
subj ect to the foreign policy bias (Preston 1986: 1 15).
State Department Advisory Opinion
Once in the United States, there are two primary avenues for an alien to request
political asylum: he or she can either apply for asylum via 8 U.S.C.A. (1158(a), or, in the
event that deportation proceedings have been initiated, he or she can request withholding
of deportation under section 8 C.F.R. (241(b)(3) (Preston 1986). If the alien is applying
under INA (208(a), their claim of having a well-founded fear of persecution is subj ect to
review of the immigration officials' determinations by the U. S. government via the State
Department advisory opinion (8 U.S.C.A. (1158(a); Preston 1986: 115).
Documentation relating to an asylum seeker' s claim of persecution is undoubtedly
a crucial factor in an immigration judges' determination as to whether the applicant' s fear
is well-founded and substantiated. Advisory opinions have been the predominant
resource utilized by immigration judges for information into the human-rights conditions
of a particular country. Proponents of the use of advisory opinions point out that these
opinions perform an indispensable function in the asylum application process. On the
other hand, critics aver that the absence of any mechanism to ensure the fundamental
fairness of how the country information is used, and the level of deference given by
immigration judges to advisory opinions, raises serious problems to the integrity of the
refugee selection process (Kerns 2000).
Under current legal doctrine, section 208(a) vests the authority to grant asylum to a
refugee already physically present in the United States to the Attorney General (8
U.S.C.A. @ 1158). The Attorney General then delegates this authority to the United
States Citizenship and Immigration Service, USCIS, under the Department of Homeland
Security (previously the Immigration and Naturalization Service, INS) to regulate the
legislative mandate (Preston 1986: 107). The process begins with the alien submitting an
application to the INS district director who is charged with making the determination as
to whether the applicant has established a well-founded fear of persecution (Preston
The INS district director forwards the application to the Bureau of Human Rights
and Humanitarian Affairs (BHRHA) of the State Department for advisory review
(Preston 1986: 108). This review is first conducted on an individual basis by the Offce
of Asylum Affairs of the BHRHA, before being directed to the country desk onfcer who
may take an additional step of requesting an opinion from either the Offce of the Legal
Advisor or from the particular U.S. Embassy in the applicant' s home country (Preston
1986: 108). At this point, the asylum offcer in the Offce of Asylum Affairs of BHRHA
and the desk onfcer in the Department reach an agreement regarding the proposed
recommendation to the INS (Preston 1986: 108). This recommendation from the
advisory opinion is then reviewed by the Director of the Office of Asylum Affairs in
BHRHA, and occasionally by the geographic officer in BHRHA or the Deputy Assistant
Secretary for Asylum and Humanitarian Affairs (Preston 1986: 108).
The role of the advisory opinion in the asylum application process has been and
remains a contested issue. Some observers claim that the advisory opinion is the main
access point for the infusion of the political bias that Congress intended to root out in the
Refugee Act (Cooper 1988). These critics of the advisory opinion contend that the
deference given to the State Department regarding foreign policy and international affairs
disrupts the integrity of the refugee selection process, rendering it highly permeable to the
political persuasions of the current presidential administration (Cooper 1988). Some
scholars assert that there is a presumption of persecution for certain nationalities resulting
in differing levels of proof required to obtain asylum. According to this argument,
certain nationalities, for example persons from Haiti or El Salvador need to have a
"classic textbook case" in order to pass the scrutiny of the State Department advisory
opinion; while other nationalities, Cubans or Nicaraguans for example, are afforded
asylum despite their inability to meet even the minimal requirements of a well-founded
fear of persecution (Cooper 1988: 933). "The asylum apparatus has the body of a border
patrol officer and the mind of a foreign policy bureaucrat" (Fitzpatrick and Pauw 1992:
Of particular concern to the critics of the advisory opinion function is the potent
combination of, (1) under trained and unsophisticated immigration officials charged with
making crucial asylum decisions and (2) the high degree of deference afforded to the
advisory opinions handed down by the State Department (Loescher and Scanlan 1986:
82). "Congressional hearings held in 1975 and 1976 demonstrated that untrained
American immigration officials systematically denied Haitian asylum seekers any
meaningful opportunity to present their claims or to receive individualized evaluation of
their purported fear of persecution" (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 82).
Alternatively, some commentators have maintained that the advisory opinion is an
indispensable element in the asylum adjudication process. This approach argues that
only the State Department has the requisite expertise and sophistication in the arena of
international affairs and politics, which INS officials and immigration judges lack
(Preston 1986: 113). According to this view, "It would be unreasonable to expect these
officials to keep abreast of human-rights conditions in foreign countries so that they,
independently, can make informed decisions on the merits of individual claims for
asylum" (Preston 1986: 112). Additionally, these commentators asserted that the State
Department alone had access to the resources and country specific information necessary
to confirm allegations of persecution. Thus, rather than an intrusion of foreign policy
bias, the State Department advisory opinion were considered to be the essential element
in verifying the accuracy and legitimacy of asylum applications, without which numerous
genuine applications would be denied while spurious claims were accepted.
Chapter 2 laid out the development of international and U.S. refugee law. It details
the particular requirements necessary to obtain refugee status, as well as the change in
refugee law from the original ideological and geographical limitations to a neutral system
supposedly based on humanitarian principles. Importantly, this chapter illustrated that
these principles of refugee law are often circumvented, through the use of the parole
power, for political purposes. This divergence between the espoused legal principles of
refugee law and the actual reception and treatment afforded by the U.S. government has
serious implications in an analysis of the particular experience of Haitian and Cuban
refugees in their pursuit to find sanctuary in the United States. As showed in the
following chapters, while the eligibility of most Cuban and Haitian refugees over the past
fifty years for refugee status and protection would appear to be very similar, their
reception at the hands of the U. S. government has been extremely inconsistent.
CHARACTERISTICS OF CUBAN REFUGEES AND THEIR RECEPTION AND
TREATMENT INT THE UNITED STATES
In order to understand fully the dynamics of a differential U.S. refugee policy
toward Cuban and Haitian refugees, it is important to consider three main factors that
influence the formulation of U.S. refugee policy. The first, and most important, factor is
the foreign policy bias based on the United States' relationship with the governments of
the countries from which the refugees fled. Second, the demographic characteristics of
these two populations have affected their respective levels of admission by the United
States. Third, pressure from U.S.-based interests groups, vying for support of or
resistance to the reception of refugee groups, has also been a factor in the ultimate
treatment of a refugee group at the hands of the U. S. government. These three factors
form the basis for understanding the formulation of greatly differing refugee policies
toward Cuban and Haitian refugee groups whose qualifications under refugee law are
This chapter first discusses the nature of U. S.-Cuban governmental relations, with
special attention to the ideological conflict that gripped the two countries since the
triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Second, this chapter documents the maj or waves of
migration from Cuba to the United States, noting the particular attributes of the arriving
refugees. Next, this chapter details the emergence of the U.S.-based support network for
the Cuban emigre community. Finally, this chapter documents the reception and
treatment of Cuban refugees by the U.S. government since 1959. Chapter 4 will provide
the same examination of the experience of Haitian refugees in the United States.
Chapters 5 will compare and analyze the respective treatment of Cuban and Haitian
refugees presented in Chapters 3 and 4.
United States Relations with Cuba
Soon after the success of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the U. S. and Cuban
governments became entangled in a long conflict, complete with animosity, mistrust and
confrontation (Masud-Piloto 1996: 23). Not long after consolidating his authority over
Cuba, Castro began to indicate communist leanings and to assert a perception of future
U. S.-Cuban relations, which, predictably, differed with the viewpoint of the U. S.
government (Masud-Piloto 1996: 22). "Washington wanted Castro to accept United
States leadership in the Western Hemisphere, staff his government with people of
moderate views, reinstitute civil liberties, and proceed gradually with land reform,
compensating American property interests at the prices they asked" (Alexander 1975 in
Masud-Piloto 1996: 22). Above all else, U.S. nervousness with Cuba's new government
hinged on the ideological orientation of Castro.
After the United States' initial recognition of the new Cuban government in 1959,
bilateral relations quickly disintegrated when Castro's regime brazenly expropriated U.S.
property and hinted at the birth of a Marxist-Leninist governmental model just 90 miles
off the shores of Florida (Masud-Piloto 1996). Not surprisingly, Castro's actions won the
enmity of the U.S. government and ignited hatred in Cuban exiles. In retaliation for
Castro's policies and his refusal to be submissive to Washington, the United States
launched a series of measures, signaling the beginning of the end of diplomatic relations:
an economic and arms embargo, termination of trade in sugar and oil, initiation of a
covert operation to train a force of Cuban exiles (Masud-Piloto 1996: 26). These foreign
policy maneuvers on the part of the United States were designed to achieve the primary
obj ective of isolating Cuba both economically and politically.
For the duration of the Cold War, U. S.-Cuban relations remained frozen and, at
times, openly antagonistic, even while the United States was able to maintain workable
relations with various other communist nations (Dominguez 1997: 50). Two events in
the early 1960s, the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and the Cuban Missile crisis of
October 1962, began a pattern of hostile encounters between successive U. S. presidential
administrations and the Cuban government. Notable among these were U.S. efforts to
counter Cuban interventions and adventurism in Africa and Latin America (Dominguez
1997). President Nixon dealt with the possible use of Cienfuegos, Cuba, as a base for
Soviet submarines; President Ford grappled with the Cuban intervention in Angola,
which ended the ongoing normalization talks of the 1970s; President Carter wrestled with
Cuban presence in Ethiopia; President Reagan threatened an invasion and engaged in
direct hostilities at nearby Grenada (Dominguez 1985: 17).
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, U. S. policy toward the former Soviet Union,
China, Germany, and Vietnam shifted; yet the U.S. Cuba policy remained entrenched in
the Cold War mindset (Hernandez-Truyol 1994) "For the State Department, the Cold
War might be over in Europe, but at our doorstep, Cuba remained a mocking nemesis"
(Zucker and Zucker 1996: 121). For the U.S. policy toward Cuba, the immediate security
threat and preoccupation with the containment of Cuban Communism faded from the top
of the priority list (Leogrande 1998: 73). Rather than making efforts to normalize
relations with the Cuban government and create economic ties, the United States set the
promotion of democracy in Cuba at the top of its agenda (Leogrande 1998: 73). Thus,
despite an international environment ripe for change and normalization of relations, the
Cuban and U.S. governments continued to be entangled in a tense and bitter conflict.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba experienced a severe contraction in its
economy and almost immediate political isolation (Leogrande 1998: 73). As Cuba
scrambled to adapt to the new political environment in the post-Cold War, the United
States moved to tighten rather than ease the sanctions against Cuba. "As the weaker
country adjusted, the stronger one expanded its intrusive ambitions beyond shaping
international behavior toward determining the structure of domestic politics" (Dominguez
1997: 60). Although indicators revealed that Cuba was ceasing revolutionary initiatives
abroad, improving its record on human-rights violations, and no longer shared economic
or ideological ties or with the Soviet Union, the United States did not view the situation
as a propitious moment to relax economic sanctions or political hostility (Smith 1998).
"The U.S. hostility toward the Cuban government heightened as the Cold War came to an
end and precisely when Cuba ceased to pose a security threat to most U.S. interests"
(Dominguez 1997: 55). Stubbornly committed to regime change in Cuba, the U.S.
government left no uncertainty about its policy as stated on the U.S. State Department
website in May 2001:
"The fundamental goal of United States policy toward Cuba is to promote a
peaceful transition to a stable, democratic form of government and respect for
human rights. Our policy has two fundamental components: maintaining pressure
on the Cuban Government for change through the embargo and the Libertad Act
while providing humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people, and working to aid
the development of civil society in the country" (U. S. State Department website
Several important events in the 1990s, including two bills in the U. S. Congress
tightening economic sanctions against Cuba, a maj or migration crisis, and various other
confrontations between the two nations ensured that the continuing animosity would
persist well after the end of the Cold War. While the strict U. S. policy on Cuba has failed
to achieve regime change in Cuba, there is little evidence that Castro's grip on power has
been diminished as the result of U. S. sanctions, and the relations between the nations
remain hostile and tense.
Characteristics of the Maj or Phases of Flight of Cuban Refugees
The analysis of the pattern of differential treatment received by the Cuban and
Haitian refugee populations upon arrival in the United States is incomplete without an
overview of the particular characteristics of the two refugee populations, when they
came, and the influence of the political considerations upon their reception. Inevitably,
documentation of the numbers of refugees, especially those who arrived without being
screened, is hard to calculate with certainty. This section documents the best data
available regarding the maj or periods of flight from Cuba and the particular policies and
treatment they encountered upon arrival in the United States. The exodus of Cuban
refugees has occurred in four maj or phases of flight from the island. The first phase
began with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution until 1962. The next phase, commonly
referred to as the "Freedom Flights" ran from 1965 to 1973. In 1980, the Mariel boatlift
became the third major episode of mass flight from Cuba. Finally, in 1994, the fourth
and most recent phase of mass flight from Cuba occurred.
Arrival of Cuban Refugees from 1959 to 1962
In an event unparalleled in Cuban history, the overthrow of Cuban dictator
Fulgencio Batista in 1959 set in motion a cycle of flight from Cuba to the United States
that would become a significant phenomenon for the next fifty years (Loescher and
Scanlan 1986: 61). Previously, whether at the hands of repressive colonial rule or a
series of dictators, flight from Cuba occurred on a much smaller scale (Juan Clark
1975:46). As the political and economic standoff between Cuba and the United States
intensified during the first years of Castro' s rule, thousands of disaffected Cubans began
to leave the island in search of what was expected to be temporary escape from the crisis
(Garcia 1996: 13-15). By measure of the volume of Cuban refugees, their method of
departure, and the open access to the United States they received, the first wave of the
post-Batista Cuban exodus was unprecedented (Clark 1975: 76). Between 1959 and
1962, roughly a quarter of a million Cubans left their homeland and fled to the United
States (Garcia 1996: 13; Clark 1975: 74-75), arriving with ideological and political
grievances congruent with the foreign policy agenda of the U. S. government (Garcia.
The overwhelming majority of the initial Cuban refugees to flee were persons with
connections to the ousted Batista regime who were fleeing reprisals (Garcia 1996: 13).
On the heels of those associated with the fallen dictatorship were fleeing Cubans who
were predominantly represented by highly educated professional and semi-professional
persons with the means to exit (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 15). These first refugees
were soon followed by other groups negatively affected by the installation of Castro' s
government who fled for reasons of political persecution, rapidly deteriorating economic
factors, the evaporation of a host of civil liberties, and other policies of revolutionary
Cuba (Clark 1975: 77).
For the obvious reasons of proximity and a quickly established exile community
support network, south Florida became the principal location for the settlement of Cuban
refugees. During this first period of flight, Cubans had the opportunity of commercial
transportation, consisting of multiple daily airline flights from Havana to Miami, and of
an American-based ferry traveling between Cuba and Florida (Clark 1975: 79). In
contrast with pre-1959 policies that only required a passport for legal departure, Cubans
fleeing revolutionary Cuba encountered a proliferation of requirements to leave the
country (Clark 1975: 79).
After the failure of the Bay of Pigs expedition, the number of Cubans able to leave
was considerably reduced, due to tightening of the exit process, the disruption of U. S.
government reception programs, and the discontinuation of direct commercial
transportation between the countries (Clark 1975: 82). Except for an escalation of illegal
departures in the face of exit controls, the Cuban exodus slowed a great deal in the
aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis (Clark 1975: 83). Between 1962 and 1965,
approximately 56,000 Cubans found refuge in the United States, most of whom came via
Mexico and Spain, due to the bar on direct transport to the United States; however, many
also came secretly on rafts and inner tubes (Masud-Piloto 1996).
Arrival of Cuban Refugees from 1965 to 1973
After a three-year lull, the Cuban exodus resumed on September 28, 1965, when
Castro surprisingly announced the commencement of a policy to permit the departure of
discontented Cubans who had relatives living in the Unite States (Masud-Piloto 1996:
57). Castro's offer to allow U.S. based Cuban dissidents to pick up relatives was
officially accepted by the Johnson Administration, initiating the second maj or wave of
the Cuban exodus, commonly referred to as the Freedom Flights (Clark 1975: 85). The
seven year Freedom Flight phase began with the Castro government' s opening of the port
of Camarioca for exit by boat. From October 1965 to March 1972, approximately
277,242 Cubans took advantage of the Cuban government' s new liberal policy on
emigration (Masud-Piloto 1996: 59-61). The motives for this change in Cuban
emigration policy are less than clear. Scholars point to various possible explanations for
this policy shift: international embarrassment over the number of boat escapes; the need
to relieve mounting internal grievances among dissidents; and creating an immigration
emergency for the United States (Clark 1975: 85).
Whatever the motives, the six-year wave of emigration that followed created maj or
problems for both the Cuban and U.S. governments, with each blaming the other for the
migration crisis. The flood of Cubans rushing to take advantage of this opportunity was
tremendous, while relatives based in the United States hurried to get the boats needed to
secure their loved ones awaiting departure in Cuba (Clark 1975: 80). The boatlift
proceeded smoothly for the first few months, in which time nearly 5,000 refugees arrived
in Florida (Masud-Piloto 1996: 61). However, dangerous weather and other
complications soon led to an early cancellation of the boatlift and the launch of the
formally agreed upon airlift.
During the Freedom Flights, the demographic characteristics of fleeing Cubans
began to resemble the basic make-up of Cuban society. The first arrivals during the
Freedom Flights were over represented by professionals who left despite exit regulations
and other bars against their departure (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 17). However, as the
Freedom Flights continued, the percentage of professionals and skilled workers
diminished as larger numbers of young adult males and persons from semi-skilled and
extractive occupations arrived (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 15). "By the end of the
Freedom Flights in 1973, skilled, clerical and sales occupations surpassed other
occupational categories among refugee arrivals" (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 17). This
trend of increased arrivals from across the socioeconomic spectrum would continue until
the end of the airlift 1974 (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 17). In contrast with earlier
groups, Cubans arriving after 1974 were primarily from the Cuban working class, with
less education, whose flight was in large part induced by economic motives (McCoy and
Gonzalez 1985: 17). Similarly, the racial make-up of Cuban refugees began to change
during the 1970s. "Analyses of 1959-79 Cuban migration show that the overwhelming
proportion of refugees were white. In fact, until 1974 there was no evidence of a trend
toward increased proportions of blacks and mulattos among the arrivals" (McCoy and
Gonzalez 1985: 17).
As criticism of the freedom flights increased and Congress discussed the
cancellation of funds for the airlift, in 1973, Castro unilaterally terminated the airlift
(Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 78). Despite the termination of the airlift, Cubans
continued to flee the island by way of makeshift boats and third country arrivals in a
fashion similar to the departures at the end of direct transportation after the Missile Crisis
(McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 18). Estimates of the number of refugees fleeing Cuba
from the end of the airlifts until the Mariel boatlift are imprecise; however, it is clear that
Cuban nullification of exit applications and restraints on illegal departures caused a
considerable reduction in numbers of refugees (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 18). There
was a shift in the demographic make up of the next wave of Cuban refugees after the
termination of the airlift (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 17).
Arrival of Cuban Refugees during the "Mariel Boatlift" of 1980
In the final years of the 1970s, the prospects for an improvement in U. S.-Cuba
relations were encouraging. President Carter began his administration with a better
relationship with Castro than any previous president. In October, 1978, Castro
unexpectedly released an estimated 10,000 to 14,000 political prisoners in October of
1978, and then allowed 100,000 U. S.-based Cuban refugees to visit relatives in Cuba
(McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 18). However, any suggestion of normalization in
relations or a permanent immigration accord quickly vanished by April, 1980. In the
wake of an internationally embarrassing situation where 10,000 Cubans crammed into the
Peruvian Embassy in Havana, Castro unexpectedly announced that the port of Mariel
would be open to those locked in the Peruvian Embassy, and all other Cubans wanting to
leave (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 19).
Over 6,000 Cubans departed from Mariel Harbor in the first week of the boatlift;
followed by an average of 3,000 people per day throughout the next month (Masud-Piloto
1996: 83). In just five months, U.S. based Cuban refugees succeeded in bringing 125,000
people to the United States from Mariel Harbor (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 19).
Despite President Carter' s humanitarian intentions, it quickly became obvious that his
administration greatly underestimated the magnitude of the boatlift and the ensuing
domestic social and political backlash.
The shift in demographic characteristics that began in the late 1970s became even
more magnified during the Mariel boatlift in 1980. "The Cubans of Mariel were
substantially different from those who arrived during the 1960s. They were about ten
years younger, averaging thirty years of age" (Garcia 1996: 68). Another salient
difference was the increased amount of nonwhite refugees. The Mariel Cubans were
made up of 15 to 40 percent black and mulattos, as compared to approximately 3% from
the earlier arrivals (Garcia 1996: 68). Primarily from the working-class, Mariel Cubans
were similar to the refugees of the earlier freedom flights when it came to occupational
history. "They were predominantly craft workers and factory operators, or professional
and technical workers" (Garcia 1996: 68). Beyond these general socio-demographic
characteristics, there was also a glaring subtext regarding the background and character
of the Mariel Cubans.
This new influx of Cubans received an extremely different response in comparison
to their countrymen who had arrived before them. While both the U.S. government and
the Cuban-American community made tremendous efforts to resettle and provide
assistance to the waves of new arrivals, the Mariel Cubans became stigmatized with the
label of political and social undesirables. Reports and rumors about Castro opening the
sanitariums and prisons fueled further criticism among public opinion that Miami was
being flooded with criminals and undesirables (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 19). Castro
himself labeled the emigrants as "anti-socials," "scum," and "crazies," while the Cuban
government considered homosexuality, prostitution and criminality as acceptable reasons
for leaving (Masud-Piloto 1996: 100).
The U. S. government supported this condemnation of the refugee population,
stating that the Cubans "have admitted to committing, in Cuba, over fifty murders, over
twenty rapes, over thirty arsons, over six hundred robberies and thefts and numerous
other crimes" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 102). Further, research shows that 16 percent of the
refugee population above fourteen years old had been imprisoned in Cuba (McCoy and
Gonzalez 1985: 29). While there is debate as to the extent of the criminality of Mariel
Cubans, it is clear that this perception tainted the new arrivals and inflamed the growing
resentment among the local U.S. population concerned with the economic and housing
strains caused by the refugees.
In an attempt to manage the migration crisis, Carter moved to institute restrictions
on those Cubans admitted, reserving priority for several groups and ordering the denial of
all others (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 54). "We are ready to start an airlift and a sealift for
those screened and qualified people to come to our country and for no other escapees
from Cuba" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 54). The INS and Coast Guard issued warnings
that anyone assisting the Cubans would face a $1,000 dollar fine and have their boats
confiscated (McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 19). Further, Carter proposed an orderly
departure program which aimed at regulating the screening and processing of refugees
(Zucker and Zucker 1996: 54).
However, in order to succeed, Carter needed the cooperation of the Cuban
government, which was not forthcoming, and thus the massive influx of Cubans
continued to proceed in an uncontrolled manner (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 54). As
thousands of the Cubans swarmed south Florida, Carter declared a state of emergency,
placing thousands in resettlement camps (tent cities) or in detention for future deportation
(McCoy and Gonzalez 1985: 19). Despite U.S. government efforts, the Cubans
continued to arrive until September 26, 1980, when Castro finally closed Mariel Harbor
(Zucker and Zucker 1996: 58).
Arrival of Cuban Refugees in the Post-Cold WarPeriod
Despite fundamental changes to the U. S. foreign policy agenda with the end of the
Cold War, U.S.-Cuban relations remained hostile and the United States initially
continued its historic pattern of open encouragement for Cubans fleeing Castro (Masud.
Piloto 1996: 138). In the early 1990s, popular discontent and a severe economic crisis in
Cuba exacerbated an already tenuous domestic situation, and sparked an increase of
illegal departures (Masud-Piloto 1996: 138). Angered by the U.S. policy toward Cuban
refugees, Castro accused the United States of violating a 1984 immigration agreement by
issuing only 1 1,222 visas, 7. 1 percent of an agreed to 160,000 visas, while at the same
time admitting a greater number, 13,275, Cuban refugees who had arrived illegally
(Masud-Piloto 1996: 134). As incidents of boat hijackings, forcible entry into foreign
embassies, riots and other domestic disturbances increased in Cuba, Castro issued the
United States an ultimatum: establish mechanisms to discourage illegal emigration, or
face another Mariel boatlift (Masud-Piloto 1996: 137).
After the Mariel boatlift, there had not been any significant increase of Cuban
arrivals to the United States until approximately 45,575 came between 1991 and 1994
(Clark 1994). While in 1989 and 1990, the numbers of Cubans departing Cuba for the
United States were 391 and 467 respectively, worsening country conditions precipitated
another significant increase in illegal departures (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 121). Over
the following four years the number of illegal departures grew steadily, from 2,203 in
1991, 2,608 in 1992, 3,881 in 1993 and 5,779 in the first seven months of 1994 (Zucker
and Zucker 1996: 121). By 1994, the issue of Cuban migration had swelled to crisis
proportions, with thousands of Cubans arriving on the coast of Florida in makeshift rafts,
called "balsas" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 138). In August, 1994, "it was estimated that at
least 25,000 "balseros" (rafters), traveling on anything that floated, had headed north
from the port town of Cojimar, Cuba" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 139).
The Cubans entering in 1994 were younger than any other group of Cubans
refugees to date, including more women and children. The percentage of nonwhite
Cuban refugees arriving also exceeded earlier rates. Further, these latest arrivals were
highly educated relative to their predecessors in most earlier phases, and the maj ority was
employed in skilled, technical, and unskilled occupations in Cuba (Ackerman et al. 1995:
25) It was clear that another exodus of Mariel proportions, or possibly greater, was
Desperate to avoid another Mariel, the Clinton Administration made the
unprecedented move of instituting a policy of interdiction and indefinite detention at the
U.S. naval base as at Guantanamo, Cuba (Masud-Piloto 1996: 140). With this move, and
with further collaboration with the Cuban government, the 1994 migration crisis was
contained and another Mariel was avoided. This phase of the Cuban exodus was
complete; however, similar to the previous phases, the flow was not completely sealed;
Cubans continued to arrive on Florida's shores, albeit in fewer numbers. "Following
1994 legal Cuban migration flows tend to stabilize, as did restrictions to illegal entries
through the coast" (Garcia-Quinones 2002)
There is disagreement over the accuracy of estimates of the numbers of Cubans
interdicted en route or admitted upon arrival in the United States since the 1994 crisis.
According to Rolando Garcia-Quinones (2002), "From 1994 up to the mid-2000 a total of
7,500 Cubans arrived in the U.S., including those who were intercepted by the U.S.
Coastguard and returned to Cuba under the Migration Agreements." However, U.S.
Coast Guard records indicate that approximately 7,921 Cubans alone were interdicted at
sea between 1995 and 2003 (U. S. Coast Guard 2004). Further, records from the U.S.
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration indicate that approximately 24, 176
Cubans refugees were admitted into the United States between 1995 and 2002 (U.S.
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration 2004).
U.S.-Based Domestic Support for Cuban Refugees
Perhaps more than any other emigre community, the Cuban-American community
established a powerful political lobby with a substantial financial base capable of directly
affecting the decisions of policy-makers in the U. S. government. Since the first Cuban
refugees arrived in the wake of the Cuban revolution, the Cuban emigre community has
achieved a delicate balance between preserving and protecting their cultural identity as
Cubans, their "Cubanidad," while at the same time successfully assimilating into the U.S.
business, legal and political communities. There are various factors which contributed to
the emergence and effectiveness of the Cuban-American community.
During the Cold War, the Cuban-American community advanced to become a
powerful political force, fueled by a collective animus toward Castro and strengthened by
cohesion and cooperation within its own community. While significant disagreement
existed among Cuban exiles over the right approach to dealing with Castro and what
should occur in a post-Castro Cuba, the common denominator was a profoundly anti.
Castro stance. Ultimately, despite the existence of resentment among the local U. S.
population and the costs of resettlement, the Cuban-American community capitalized on
the congruence between its own zealous opposition to Castro and the U.S. anti.
communism Cold War policy (Garcia 1996: 121).
Cuban Americans became their own strongest advocates. With substantial
resettlement support from the U.S. government, combined with their own education and
employment skills, the Cuban refugees vigorously pursued business and political avenues
to establish a strong foundation for their exile community, as well as a base for an anti.
Castro campaign. Many efforts were made by Cuban-Americans to facilitate the
transition for their fellow countrymen. Among other organizations, the "Cuban
Municipalities in Exile," provided a variety of services to newly arriving Cuban refugees,
including but not limited to educational, employment, housing and health assistance
(Garcia 1996: 91-92).
While the U.S. government made efforts to disburse the resettlement of Cuban
refugees across the country, inevitably south Florida became the nucleus of the Cuban
emigre community. The concentration of such a large segment of the Cuban community
in one area, and the concerted effort to maintain cultural unity, were central to the success
of the Cuban-American community (Garcia 1996: 83). The early story of the
establishment of the Cuban emigre community was one of taking advantage of
resettlement opportunities and community development. As time moved on, the Cuban
emigre community grew both in numbers and in strength.
Principal among the various efforts of the Cuban-American community to exert its
influence upon the formulation of U. S. refugee and foreign policy was its emergence as a
significant electoral force. Cubans took full advantage of the privileges afforded to them
for adjustment of their immigration status and naturalization by the Cuban Adjustment
Act (Pub. L. 89-732, 80 Stat. 1161 1966). Upon gaining U.S. citizenship, Cuban refugees
were eligible to vote; as a group, their involvement in elections quickly developed into a
substantial electoral force. The voter-participation rate of the Cuban-American
community, which surpassed that of the general U. S. population, translated into political
clout (Newland 1995: 204). "Emigres became quite adept at getting bills passed through
Congress and lobbying for tougher economic sanctions against the Castro government"
(Garcia 1996: 121).
While not the sole Cuban-American lobby group, the Cuban American National
Foundation (CANF) has stood apart as the most influential political lobby (Newland
1995: 204). Founded by a group of Cuban businessmen in 1981, CANF set out to affect
the formulation of U.S. policy toward Cuba (Garcia 1996: 147). "CANF developed into
a powerful and sophisticated lobby that vehemently opposed any relaxation whatsoever
in Washington' s policy of hostility... No countervailing group, either within the Cuban
American community or beyond it, could begin to match CANF's influence" (Leogrande
1998: 74). While the Cuban-American community was highly successful in influencing
U. S. politicians, the opinion of the general public was not as easily manipulated.
U.S. Public Opinion of Cuban Refugees
From the first arrivals in the aftermath of the Cuban revolution, the local U. S.
population has shown Cuban refugees mixed reaction. Initially, the media often praised
the Cubans for their heroism and rarely questioned their legitimacy as political refugees
(Garcia 1996: 20). Similarly, many U.S. citizens were generally supportive of the Cuban
refugees' case for political asylum. Rather than a question of the Cuban arrivals'
qualifications as genuine refugees, the main frustration among U.S. citizens was with the
costs associated with their resettlement. "Most Miamians sympathized with the plight of
the Cubans but could not understand why their community had to bear the burden of a
crisis it did not create" (Garcia 1996: 20). Many local residents were particularly
resentful of the competition for jobs, housing and other resources created by the arrival of
Cubans (Garcia 1996: 20). While federal assistance relieved some of the pressure of the
resettlement costs, resentment among local communities persisted, especially during the
mass influxes of Cubans during the Freedom Flights and the Mariel boatlift. "While
Americans applauded the Cubans' struggle for political freedom, they did not necessarily
want the Cubans to exercise that freedom in the United States" (Garcia 1996: 66).
State and local officials were still worried about shouldering the costs and
responsibility of the new Cubans, while many among both the white and African.
American communities protested the open door policy toward Cubans (Zucker and
Zucker 1996: 33). "Some white Floridians feared that the new influx would radically
change the ethnic balance and disrupt the area politically and economically. Blacks felt
threatened and angry. Those in unskilled menial and service jobs feared they would lose
their j obs to the newly arriving Cubans" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 33). In particular, the
African-American community resented the disparity inherent in the federal assistance
presented to the noncitizen Cubans through the Cuban Refugee Program and denied to
African-American citizens. Among the clearest examples of this preferential treatment
afforded to the Cubans over the African-American community was the integration of
Cuban children into "white" public schools while African-American children remained
segregated (Masud-Piloto 1996: 63). Though the Freedom Flights ended in 1973,
tensions between arriving Cuban refugees and the local community were revived and
exacerbated during the Mariel boatlift.
The level of public resentment in response to the Freedom Flights increased with
what was perceived by some as a disorderly swarm of refugees during the Mariel boatlift.
Once again, the African-American community was particularly resentful toward the
arriving Cubans. The African-American community believed that the earlier Cuban
arrivals had deprived them of jobs and affordable housing, which they charged would
only be exacerbated due to the economic recession existing at the time of the Mariel
boatlift (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 55). The African-American community alleged that
the arriving Mariel Cubans were afforded preferential treatment superior to that provide
to other refugee populations, as well as the treatment given to the African-American
community. "The arrival of the Cubans, moreover, had engendered resentment not only
because they had been favored over other asylum seekers.... And again, the Cubans, as
refugees, were eligible for greater amounts and more kinds of assistance than were made
available to members of the black community" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 46). While the
African-American community openly expressed its frustration over the Cubans'
perceived negative effect on their community, they were not alone in their irritation with
the new Cuban arrivals.
White non-Hispanic citizens also voiced their contempt for the open door provided
to the Cubans. "They saw a cultural shift in South Florida and were threatened by it"
(Zucker and Zucker 1996: 55). Adding to the desire to deny entrance to the Cubans was
the growing perception that many of the new arrivals were persons with criminal records
and mental incapacities (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 185). "Few immigrant groups
elicited as much negative response as the marielitos. Public opinion turned against them
when the press revealed that Castro had used the boatlift to rid the island of
"undesirables" and that among the new immigrants were hundreds, if not thousands, of
criminals" (Garcia 1996: 46). In addition to the local communities' resentment of the
social and economic costs of Cuban arrivals, the state of Florida and other local
governments in resettlement areas protested the financial burden which they believed was
a responsibility of the federal government (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 55). These
domestic concerns were not great enough to trump the foreign policy influence over the
U.S. refugee policy toward Cubans; however, the strong statement of disapproval
regarding the Mariel Cubans undeniably complicated the situation and affected the
decision making process for the Carter Administration.
Notably, the Cuban-American community's ardent support of the Mariel boatlift in
the beginning was not immune to effect of the social stigma that became attached to the
Mariel Cubans. As the boatlift began, U.S. based Cubans were the first in line to assist
with the arrival of Cubans; many of them took it upon themselves to sail to Mariel and
transport Cuban refugees back to Miami. While the Cuban-American community
initially embraced the Mariel arrivals, their enthusiasm and sponsorship of this latest
wave lessened as reports circulated bringing the moral character of the new arrivals into
question. "Even the exile community turned against this new wave, afraid that their
golden reputations as model immigrants would be tarnished by the criminal element.
Unlike the earlier refugees, the marielitos encountered hostility and discrimination
wherever they settled" (Garcia 1996: 46).
Changes in the Domestic Support for Cuban Refugees during the Post-Cold War
The end of the Cold War did not diminish the political influence of the Cuban.
American community. During a time of potential reconsideration of relations with Cuba,
hard-liners within the Cuban-American lobby were instrumental in the decision to tighten
rather than ease pressure and sanctions on Cuba. CANF was particularly effective in
using its constituency's vote as political leverage, as evidenced by the statement of an
official in the first Bush Administration, "The Foundation has had a chilling effect on the
debate. Anytime anyone starts to think creatively about Cuba we're told: What do you
want to do, lose South Florida for us?" (Newland, 1995:204). However, while the
Cuban-American lobby proved to be a significant player in U.S. policy toward Cuba in
the early 1990s, there were important signs of changes in the Cuban-American
Despite CANF's continued political influence, it ceased to be the monolithic
representative of the Cuban-American community. "CANF, however, was no longer the
single voice of the Cuban-American community. The Cuban-American community was
in transition, and so was its exile politics" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 125). New
organizations with different perspectives on dealing with Castro emerged in the Cuban.
American community, including, among others, the Cuban Committee for Democracy,
Cuban American Defense League, Cambio Cuba, and the Cuban-American Committee
for Peace (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 125). In contrast with the traditional hard-line
approach to Castro, some of the new groups promoted a more moderate approach,
arguing that the sanctions have not produced changes in Cuban leadership, but rather
hardship for the average Cuban (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 125). The alteration in the
Cuban-American community reflected not only a change in perspectives on relations with
Castro, but also with the appropriate response to a mass influx of Cuban refugees.
In the 1990s, Americans' hostility toward the arrival of another influx of refugees,
and the costs associated with their resettlement, was reaching new heights. "The public
in general, and Floridians specifically, viewed immigrants and escapees as unwelcome
intruders" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 105). The Cuban-American community in general,
in a significant shift from previous position, was not united on refugee policy toward
Cubans. "The Cuban-American Community itself was ambivalent about welcoming
another mass escape, with its likely problems and the backlash it would cause" (Zucker
and Zucker 1996: 125). Many Cuban-Americans shared other local residents' concerns
about the arrival of criminals, and the burdens that would be imposed on the school
system, housing and other costs (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 125). Moreover, while
individual Cuban-Americans wanted to receive family and friends, many believed that
allowing a mass exodus from Cuba would relieve pressure on the Cuban government and
thus delay Castro's demise (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 125).
Human-rights Violations in Cuba
The Cuban government' s poor record regarding civil and political rights has not
gone unnoticed in the international community. "Cuba's failings, such as its failure to
follow the 'rule of law,' as evidenced by the absence of an independent judiciary and the
lack of independent legal representation, and to secure and ensure individual rights...are
regressive relics eschewed by the aspirational new world model" (Hernandez-Truyol
1994: 21). The Inter-American Commission on Human-rights, supporting Hernandez.
Truyol's assessment of political repression in Cuba, stated that fundamental civil and
political rights have been systematically repressed by the Castro government (OAS
According to the Human Rights Watch, the Cuban government has often handed
out harsh prison sentences as penalty for political opposition or expressing criticism of
the government and shows no sign of lifting the restrictions on political dissent
(Malinowski 2003). "[Cuba] has long denied its people basic rights to fair trial, free
expression, association, assembly, movement and the press. It has frequently sought to
silence its critics by using short term detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, threats,
surveillance, politically motivated dismissals from employment, and other harassment"
(2003). Reports in 2003 of governmental crackdowns on political opposition by the
Cuban government showed that the problem persists (Malinowski 2003).
The U.S. Government's Policy toward Cuban Refugees
Throughout the Cold War, the issue of Cuban refugees fleeing to the United States
was a recurring problem. From the beginning of Castro' s reign, U.S. presidents saw the
reception of Cuban refugees as an instrument in its ideological face-off with Castro.
U.S. Representative Walter Judd's statement on the symbolic value of Cuban refugees
became a U.S. foreign policy mantra, "Every refugee who comes out [of Cuba] is a vote
for our society and a vote against their society" (Williard 1960 in Masud-Piloto 1996:
33). In opening the gates to Cuban refugees, the United States saw the opportunity to
embarrass Castro, disparage the communist system, consolidate and support anti-Castro
factions, and deal a blow to the Cuban economy by draining the country of its educated
and skilled professionals (Masud-Piloto 1996: 33 and 51).
From the earliest departures of Cuba exiles in 1961, the U.S. government proudly
proclaimed that the "homes and hearts" of the American people had been opened to the
"distressed Cubans fleeing from Communist oppression" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 34).
While the tide of refugees and the political circumstances surrounding their departure
would fluctuate over the course of the Cold War, this basic governmental directive for the
automatic acceptance of Cubans fleeing communist oppression would continue to be the
modus operandi of U. S. refugee policy toward that nation.
U.S. Government Policy toward Cuban Refugees from 1959-1962
President Eisenhower responded cautiously to the first wave of Cuban refugees in
the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. Several factors ultimately swayed his
administration to initiate a policy to allow migration from Cuba, a policy which would be
duplicated throughout the rest of the century. The factors motivating the Eisenhower
Administration were: "(a) humanitarian concerns, (b) the desire to overthrow the
revolution with exile forces, (c) the wish to embarrass the Cuban government, and (d) the
knowledge that many of the exiles could easily be assimilated because they had been
linked by profession, business, education, and culture to the United States" (Masud-Piloto
1996: 33). With this decision, the Eisenhower Administration established a precedent of
acceptance and support of Cuban refugees, the costs of which were ostensibly
outweighed by the benefits of the propaganda gains in depicting the Communist Cuban
government as a ruthless dictatorship.
While the U. S. government earned political mileage out of publicly labeling the
Cubans as victims of political persecution, the first Cuban refugees did not receive
official refugee status. "The government pursued a passive policy designed to let
virtually any Cuban enter the United States without legal formalities" (Loescher and
Scanlan 1986: 61). Instead, the first to arrive generally came with visas and simply were
permitted to overstay their tourist or other visa status. Many scholars have asserted that
the initial laissez faire U.S. policy was based on the expectation that the Cubans were
temporary visitors and would return to Cuba upon resolution of the conflict within Cuba
(Garcia 1996: 22; Loescher and Scanlan 62). "The Cubans were not to be assimilated but
rather assisted until they could resume their normal lives back in Cuba" (Garcia 1996:
22). However, to the surprise and dismay of both the U.S. government and the Cuban
refugees, the Cuban crisis did not dissipate, instead it rapidly intensified.
For those Cubans heading for the United States, this prerequisite was initially
achieved by application for an immigrant or tourist visa with the American Embassy
(Clark 1975: 82). However, with the breaks in diplomatic relations in 1961, this
procedure became immensely more difficult and costly to complete, and passage through
a third-country to the United States became the only option for fleeing Cubans seeking
refuge in the United States. (Clark 1975: 82). Responding to Cubans' difficulty
obtaining a foreign visa, the U.S. government initiated a "visa waiver" process, whereby
Cubans would be generally allowed to enter the United States without a visa (Clark 1975:
82). The "visa waiver" program permitted over 700,000 Cubans to enter, but was
promptly terminated in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs invasion (Clark 1975: 82).
Strengthening its commitment to those disaffected by the Communist system in
Cuba, the U.S. government soon implemented a visa-waiver procedure which eliminated
the visa requirement in "emergency cases" and enabled the resumption of direct flight to
the United States (Masud-Piloto 1996: 34). With the implementation of the visa-waiver
procedure, any Cuban claiming to flee communism was allowed into the United States
(Masud-Piloto 1996: 35). "The Coast Guard made no attempt to turn away
undocumented Cubans, who even during this early period were arriving quite regularly in
small boats. And the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) avoided instituting
deportation proceedings against those arriving illegally or remaining in the United States
after the expiration of their visas, and began the process of granting "extended voluntary
departure" as a deportation avoidance device" (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 61).
Arriving Cubans would prove to be the beneficiaries of substantial support and
assistance, both from the government and, perhaps more importantly, from a growing
private support network.
Most refugees arriving from Cuba came without the means necessary to secure
their basic needs of food, housing, health care, or access to employment (Clark 1975:
112). For the first two years of the exodus, private aid from church groups and other
supporters was the only source of assistance for the refugees (Clark 1975: 1 12-1 15).
President Eisenhower eventually established the Cuban Refugee Emergency Center, "to
coordinate the relief efforts of all the voluntary relief agencies and oversee the
resettlement program" (Garcia 1996: 21). While the Eisenhower Administration's initial
efforts to support the Cuban refugees did not include direct governmental financial
assistance to the volunteer agencies or the Cuban refugees themselves, Eisenhower' s
successor, President Kennedy, elevated the role of the U. S. government in the support
and resettlement of Cuban refugees (Garcia 1996: 21).
Following the inauguration of President Kennedy, U. S. government support of the
Cuban refugees steadily increased. "Beginning in 1961, the Kennedy administration
became more active in refugee relief efforts, considering the Cubans to be victims of the
Cold War and thus a national responsibility" (Garcia 1996: 22). The Kennedy
Administration established the Cuban Refugee Program that provided assistance for
health, employment and educational training, food and other relief needs (Garcia 1996:
22; Masud-Piloto 1996: 49). The state of Florida's education system, from Dade County
schools to the state universities, offered extensive support, while the "Cuban Children's
Program" facilitated both the reception and resettlement services (Garcia 1996: 24). The
passage of the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act in 1962 took the governmental
efforts a step further. Cuban refugees became the recipients of a massive support
campaign, and were eventually allowed to adjust their immigration status and apply for
U.S. citizenship (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 66). With this Act, successive presidents
wielded broad authority over refugee policy and continued the trend of welcoming,
supporting and resettling of large numbers of Cubans.
U.S. Government Policy toward Cuban Refugees from 1965 to 1973
"I declare this afternoon to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here in
America will find it. The dedication of America to our tradition as an asylum for
the oppressed is going to be upheld." (Lyndon B. Johnson 1965 in Masud-Piloto
The commencement of the freedom flights in 1965 triggered an immediate
response, in the Cuban exile community, U.S. government officials and policy makers,
and in domestic voices of resistance to the influx of thousands of new refugees. As
Castro opened the gates to Cubans wishing to flee to the United States, the Cuban exile
community rushed to help with the reception of newly arriving Cubans. As has been
described above, some within the United States, particularly the African-American
community, expressed their concerns over the costs and problems of a new influx of
refugees (Garcia 1996: 62). Other critics claimed that the new Cuban arrivals were not
victims of political persecution, but instead consumer refugees who, "left Cuba largely
because they were used to a standard of living they could no longer have in Cuba"
(Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 75). A Central Intelligence Agency report supported this
claim, concluding that most Cubans were "disaffected because of the economic situation
and not political oppression" (CIA Report in Masud-Piloto 1996: 60).
In spite of these voices of protest, the Johnson Administration used the opportunity
of accepting Cuban refugees, as a "ballot for freedom," in a propaganda move against
Cuban Communism. "The American reception of Cuban migrants between 1965-73
demonstrated how far the concept of asylum could be stretched when those seeking
admission were regarded as ideologically valuable" (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 78). In
November 1965, negotiations between the Castro government and the Johnson
Administration, culminating in a formal Memo of Understanding, named the "Freedom
Flight Program," led to an orderly flow of two daily flights from Cuba (Zucker and
Zucker 1996: 33.) In response to the arrival of nearly 4,000 Cubans a month, the U.S.
government granted the Cubans admission into the country and redoubled efforts to
resettle the new arrivals (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 75). "The U.S. handled the
Camarioca Boatlift and the Cuban airlift... without making any adjustments to the legal
regime governing admission to the United States. Cubans were simply paroled into the
U. S." (Hughes 1999: 135) The use of the parole power, which enabled presidents to
admit aliens into the country without having to apply for asylum or demonstrate a well~
founded fear of persecution, was the primary mechanism for admitting Cuban refugees.
In 1966, Congress passed special legislation that paved the way for the adjustment of
status to permanent residency and citizenship for the arriving Cubans (Pub. L. 89-732, 80
Stat. 1161 1966).
With the Cuban Adjustment Act, Congress authorized the Attorney General, "to
grant permanent status to any native or citizen of Cuba who was admitted or paroled into
the United States after January 1, 1959, and had been physically present in the United
States for at least one year" (Miranda 1995: 681; Pub. L. 89-732, 80 Stat. 1161 1966).
This law eliminated the requirement that made Cubans who were present in the United
States and applying for residency travel to a third country to get an immigrant visa and
reenter the United States (Garcia 1996: 42). In addition to facilitating the permanent
status of Cuban refugees, the Cuban Adjustment Act was intended to "help Cuban
professionals meet state licensing requirements and to assist the Cuban elderly in
receiving benefits (such as Medicare) that were available only to U.S. citizens" (Garcia
As the freedom flights continued, pressure exerted in Congress and by local
resentment increasingly called for an end to the airlifts (Masud-Piloto 1996: 67-68).
"Those pressures reflected a growing belief that Cuban migration had lost its original
political character, that it was bringing to the United States larger numbers of people less
easily assimilable to the domestic labor market and more dependent on welfare aid, and
that the money spent on the airlift and related resettlement programs might better be spent
on the American poor"(Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 79). In 1973, as congressional
efforts to cut funds for the airlift mounted, Castro independently terminated the airlift
(Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 78). After over 7 years of lenient admission of upwards of
200,000 Cubans, the freedom flights ended (Masud-Piloto 1988: 68).
U.S. Government Policy toward Cuban Refugees during the Mariel Boatlift of 1980
Before 1980, U.S. legislation unambiguously allowed for admission of refugees
fleeing Castro's Cuba on the simple grounds that they were escaping a communist
government (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 74). In March of 1980, only weeks before the
onset of the Mariel boatlift, Congress adopted the Refugee Act, which aimed to do away
with overt ideological and political standards for granting refugee status. While the
Refugee Act appeared to have stripped Cuban refugees of their preferential treatment, as
it turned out this was not the case (Preston 1986: 105). In spite of the promising language
and intent of the Refugee Act, it rapidly became apparent that the realities of the Mariel
refugee crisis would prove to thwart any real reform. "Within the space of a few months,
the U. S. received nearly 140,000 Cubans and Haitians, and the smooth functioning of the
asylum provisions of the Refugee Act which had been envisioned by its framers was
effectively sabotaged" (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 180).
The Mariel Boatlift triggered an unprecedented migration crisis which had a
dramatic effect on both domestic and foreign policy in the United States. Several factors,
including the ongoing hostage standoff in Iran and the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan,
election year political attacks from Republican candidate Ronald Reagan, as well as a
national recession, all complicated the Carter Administration's ability to handle the crisis
effectively (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 53). Although certain political and social factors
combined to make the management of the Mariel refugee crisis much more problematic
than previous waves of Cuban immigration, the U.S. response to the Mariel boatlift in
many ways showed the continuing predominance of ideological considerations in refugee
As nearly 125,000 Cubans poured into the United States, the Carter Administration
was faced with the prospect of having to apply the measures of the Refugee Act to a
situation of mass asylum, something for which the Act was not originally intended to
manage. According to the Refugee Act, Cuban refugees were to be limited to a yearly
quota of 19,500 and subj ect to the requirement of individual case reviews to determine
the credibility of their asylum claim (Hughes 1999).
President Carter initially pledged to provide "an open heart and open arms" to the
Cuban refugees, but soon declared that the boatlift had reached crisis proportions and
created an immigration committee to address the dilemma (Alden 1995: 181).
Furthermore, despite the ideological preference inherent in U.S. refugee policy, the
Carter Administration was keenly aware of the problematic refugee status question as
applied to the Cubans. "Technically and legally, the Cubans were simply undocumented
aliens seeking asylum, not refugees" (Hughes 1999: 56). In a forthright admission, the
Carter Administration cast doubt on the likelihood that the Mariel Cubans were, as a
group, genuine refugees: "In general, their fear of persecution was derived from their
own act of leaving Cuba, not necessarily that they had been persecuted by the
government before leaving; refugee status would reward illegal entry and set dangerous
precedents for future migration; the Cubans were no more deserving of refugee status
than the Haitians" (Copeland 1981 in Masud-Piloto 1996: 86) Thus, while denying the
classification of Cubans as refugees under the statutory definition of the Refugee Act,
President Carter still treated the Mariel Cubans as de facto refugees by paroling them into
the country, as in the same way nearly all previous Cubans entering after Castro's rise to
power (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 185).
Ironically, the use of the parole power to admit the Cubans effectively made the
Cubans' political asylum claims irrelevant, as they were not necessary upon the issuance
of parole. In fact, while parole remained the principal mechanism for admitting Cuban
refugees without the need for an asylum hearing and a demonstration of a well-founded
fear of persecution, the adjudication of an asylum claim was essentially reserved for use
when the INS wanted to deport or prevent a particular Cuban from entering (Alienkoff
1984 in Preston 1986: nl74). "The claims of most of the 125,000 Cubans who entered
during the Mariel boatlift are not being adjudicated. The government was, however,
adjudicating claims of persons it would like to return to Cuba, such as persons who have
committed serious crimes in Cuba or in the United States"(Alienkoff 1984 in Preston
1986: nl75). On the surface, President Carter' s use of parole to permit the 125,000
Cuban Mariel Cubans to enter the country appeared to suggest that the U.S. government
response would be business as usual.
The actual policy determination on how to handle the arriving Cubans was
delivered by President Carter amidst mounting pressure from all sides of the political
spectrum. President Carter created the Cuban-Haitian entrant classification, whereby the
U.S. government permitted new Cuban (and Haitian) arrivals to stay and apply for an
adjustment of status to permanent resident after two years (Masud-Piloto 1996: 86).
"Most important, the entrants would be eligible for medical services, supplemental
income, and emergency assistance benefits and state and local governments would be
reimbursed for 75 percent of the program' s costs" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 86). The Cuban.
Haitian entrant classification addressed the issue of whether and how to justify the
acceptance of the incoming refugees; however, the problem of what to do with the vast
number of Cubans upon their arrival remained unresolved.
More pressing than the initial classification of the Cubans upon admission was the
logistic problem of processing and resettling of the arrivals. When President Carter
declared a state of emergency in Florida, thousands of Cuban arrivals were sent to tent
cities located in football stadiums and military bases and other locations in various states
(Masud-Piloto 1996: 85). Many detained Cubans were to be held until they were claimed
by relatives or other sponsors. Others were effectively detained indefinitely, determined
to be excludablee" and thereby ineligible for release due to criminal records or mental
incapacity (Masud-Piloto 1996: 85). The tent cities sparked anger among the detainees,
leading in some cases to riots. "They had come to the United States in the 'freedom
flotilla,' but thousands were detained for months, and some were imprisoned for years for
crimes committed in Cuba against Castro's government" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 86).
Although the Mariel boatlift ended in October 1980, the issue of what to do with
the "excludables" who remained in detention remained unresolved until 1984, when the
U.S. and Cuban governments entered into an agreement to return approximately 2,700
Cubans determined ineligible for admission in the United States (Pingeton 1999: 330).
Pursuant to the U.S.-Cuba agreement, the United States would issue visas to 3,000
political prisoners and their families, and then to approximately 20,000 other Cubans per
year (Masud-Piloto 1996: 102). In February 1985, the deportation of the detained Mariel
excludables began, as a group of twenty-three Cubans determined ineligible for political
asylum were returned to Cuba (Masud-Piloto 1996: 103). "For the first time since 1945,
the United States agreed to return people to a Communist country, a fact all the more
remarkable in the context of U.S.-Cuban relations since 1959" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 103).
The deportations were stymied, however, after Cuba suspended the agreement as
relations between the two countries soured after the Reagan Administration's sponsorship
of Radio Marti (Masud-Piloto 1996: 104). The U. S. government' s collaboration with the
Cuban-American National Foundation in the development of the "Exodus" program
further disrupted any potential for a stable immigration accord between the two countries
(Masud-Piloto 1996: 104). Under the "Exodus" program, public and private funds
provided medical and employment assistance to over 9,500 Cubans who were arriving
from third countries between 1988 and 1993 (Masud-Piloto 1996: 133).
In 1987, negotiations between the U.S. and Cuban governments resulted in a
reactivation of the agreement for deportation of the excludables to Cuba and the issuance
of 20,000 visas per year to Cubans (Masud-Piloto 1996: 134). Despite the optimism for
bilateral cooperation regarding the immigration question, it rapidly became apparent that
the 1984/1987 agreements were bound to fail. "Despite the crisis the Mariel boatlift
created for the Carter administration and the State of Florida, the United States
government continued treating Cuban immigration on a crisis-to-crisis basis- as part of a
political strategy designed to overthrow the Revolution, instead of a rational and humane
immigration policy" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 132). By the early 1990s, as the Cold War
receded in all aspects of U. S. foreign affairs except Cuban-U. S. relations, the failure of
the 1984/1987 immigration accords and an economic crisis in Cuba led to fears of
another Mariel type exodus.
U.S. Government Policy toward Cuban Refugees from 1990-2004
"Cubans must know that the only way to come to the United States is by applying
in Cuba.... They [those who arrive in the U.S.illegally] will be place in exclusion
proceedings, and treated as are all illegal migrants from other countries." (U. S.
Attorney General Janet Reno, May 2, 1995 in Masud-Piloto 1996: 128)
In the early 1990s, as the Cuban economy was faltering and political repression
was on the rise, signs indicated that a new mass exodus was brewing in Cuba (Zucker and
Zucker 1996: 120). Although the number of Cuban arrivals increased rapidly between
1990 and 1994, the U.S. government was initially hesitant to alter its long-held policy of
preference to Cuban refugees. "U. S. policy makers, bound by a foreign policy of anti.
Castro communism and supported in their myopia by Cuban-American pressure groups,
were heedless of the portent of rising numbers of balseros, escapees on makeshift boats
and rafts" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 121). By 1994, the threat of another mass influx of
Cubans, possibly exceeding that of the Mariel boatlift motivated the U. S. government to
adopt a radical change in policy toward Cuban arrivals.
In the early months of 1994, as incidents of riots and boat high ackings in Cuba led
to violence, the U.S. cautiously continued to admit Cubans leaving illegally. In blaming
the United States for the riots and illegal departures, Castro issued an ultimatum: "Either
they [the United States] take serious measures to guard their coasts, or we will stop
putting obstacles in the way of people who want to leave the country" (Castro in Masud.
Piloto 1996: 138). On August 19, 1994, President Clinton announced a dramatic shift in
U.S. refugee policy toward Cubans, initiating what would become known as the "wet-
foot dry-foot" policy. "Today I have ordered that illegal refugees from Cuba will not be
allowed to enter the United States. Refugees rescued from Cuba will be taken to our
naval base at Guantanamo while we explore the possibility of other safe havens within
the region.... The United States will detain, investigate and, if necessary, prosecute
Americans who take to the sea to pick up Cubans" (President Clinton in Zucker and
Zucker 1996: 127). With this statement, the thirty-five year old policy of welcoming
Cubans from Castro's repressive government was reversed. "The Clinton
administration's decision to stop granting Cuban migrants automatic political asylum in
the United States marked the end of an era of unrestricted admission and preferential
treatment of Cubans based strictly on political considerations" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 128).
In its place, Cubans were detained at Guantanamo and denied any opportunity for entry
into the United States other than by legal channels upon return to Cuba (GAO 1995).
In spite of the clear statement of intent to end the open door policy for Cubans by
the Clinton Administration, "Cubans refused to believe they would be denied entry to the
United States and continued to leave the island" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 126). In the
days after Clinton's announcement, the U.S. Coast Guard picked up record numbers of
rafters, with nearly 32,000 being detained in Guantanamo by September of that year
(Zucker and Zucker 1996: 126). In addition to the non entry policy, Clinton announced
various other measures intended to exert political and economic pressure on the Cuban
government, including the suspension of sending money remittances to families in Cuba,
cancellation of charter flights, and a tightening of the issuance of licenses for travel to the
island (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 126). Unsatisfied that these policy changes would be
sufficient to end the exodus, the Clinton Administration looked to the Cuban government
"On September 9th, 1994, the U.S. and Cuban governments agreed that the United
States would allow at least 20,000 Cubans to enter annually in exchange for Cuba's
pledge to prevent further unlawful departures by rafters" (GAO 1995: 1) The
combination of the threat of detention by the United States, and the promise of a peaceful
return to Cuba without the threat of retaliation was successful in deterring further mass
departures from Cuba (Masud-Piloto 1996: 141). While the immediate influx of Cubans
had been halted, the U.S. government became the recipient of sharp criticism from the
Cuban-American community, human-rights groups, some Latin American governments,
as well as violent rioting by the detained rafters (Masud-Piloto 1996). Not only was the
new policy controversial, it was also a huge financial burden to the United States, with
the costs estimated at around $365 million per year (Masud-Piloto 1996: 143). In
October 1994, the U. S. government revised the new policy, allowing the elderly, sick,
pregnant, and minors accompanied by their parents to enter the United States (Masud.
Piloto 1996: 142). This policy revision relieved some of the pressure of the detainees in
Guantanamo, but critics of the new policy were far from appeased.
Opponents of repatriation, whether voluntary or involuntary, of Guantanamo
detainees to Cuba, brought a class action suit in federal court. In Cuban American Bar
Association (CABA) v. Christopher, the plaintiffs alleged that the U.S. policy violated
the detainees' entitlement to due process as well as international principles of non.
refoulement (43F. 3d 1412, 11Ith Cir. 1995 in Zucker and Zucker 1996 128). However,
the court held that the Guantanamo base, and other similar safe havens, are not United
States territory, and thus the detainees do not have a constitutional right to due process or
equal protection, nor are they entitled to protection against forced repatriation under the
UN Refugee Convention or the Immigration and Nationalization Act (43F. 3d 1412, 11Ith
Cir. 1995 in Zucker and Zucker 1996 128). Despite the U. S. government' s court victory,
the Clinton Administration soon modified the detention policy.
On May 2, 1995, the Clinton Administration announced an agreement reached in
secret negotiations with the Cuban government. To the great relief of the detained
rafters, as well as many in the Cuban-American community, all remaining eligible
detainees at Guantanamo would be paroled into to the United States by March 1996
(GAO 1995). Those ineligible, for reasons of criminal history, or physical and mental
problems would be returned to Cuba (GAO 1995). The new policy held that the U.S.
government would not take Cubans interdicted at sea to Guantanamo or another safe
haven (GAO 1995). Instead, Cubans interdicted at sea would be afforded an interview
onboard a Coast Guard cutter; those failing to demonstrate a credible asylum claim would
be taken directly back to Cuba as opposed to the Guantanamo naval base where they
could still hope for entry in the United States (GAO 1995). Once returned to Cuba, the
interdicted Cubans could apply for entry through legal channels at the United States
Interests Section in Havana (GAO 1995). In this significant reversal of policy, the United
States had officially abandoned its promotion of the freedom of voluntary exit from Cuba
and deliberately subverted its historic practice of support for Cuban refugees in exchange
for assurances against future mass arrivals. While the new policy proved effective at
stopping the influx of Cubans, many believed that the United States had gone too far. "It
is almost as if the West has asked Erich Honecker to stop Germans from crossing over
the Berlin Wall" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 127).
Three factors have affected U.S. policy toward Cuban refugees, from the 1950s to
the present. First, in the arena of U.S. governmental relations, the Cold War revealed an
unmistakable record of open hostility between the United States and Cuba. The end of
the Cold War has brought important changes in international relations, however, as of
2004, the pattern of unfriendly U. S. relations with Cuba has remained essentially the
same. Second, a look at the particular demographic make-up of the Cuban refugee
populations since 1959 revealed other important factors. The overall flow among the
Cuban refugee population has followed a noticeable socioeconomic trend- initial arrivals
consisting of members from the upper classes, followed by groups more representative of
Cuban society in general. Since 1980, the percentage of nonwhite Cuban refugees
arriving in the United States has increased, however, nonwhite Cubans have remained a
minority among the Cuban refugee population. Overall, the demographic make-up of
Cuban refugees has contributed to their ability to adjust and assimilate to life in the
United States. Third, Cuban refugees were assisted greatly by the cohesive emigre
community, a strong level of U.S.-based domestic support, and a relatively slight degree
of resentment within the U.S. public at large. However, there is evidence that the degree
of domestic support for Cuban refugees in the post-Cold War period might not be as
strong as during the Cold War.
Throughout the duration of the Cold War, the U. S. government pursued two very
different policies toward Cuban and Haitian refugee populations. From the triumph of
the Cuban Revolution until the end of the Cold War, the U. S. maintained an open door
policy toward Cuban refugees. While foreign policy was the chief factor guiding U. S.
refugee policy during the Cold War, its influence has not been as clear in the post-Cold
War period. Although since 1990, the U.S. has continued its preferential treatment for
Cuban refugees, the change in the Cuban refugee policy in 1994 indicated that there are
limits to the foreign policy bias toward refugees fleeing communism.
This chapter reviewed the history of U. S. governmental relations with Cuba and the
particular characteristics of the Cuban refugee population during the various maj or
phases of flight. Similarly, this chapter discussed the U.S.-based support for Cuban
refugees. Finally, this chapter detailed the political strategies employed by the U.S.
government to either admit or deny the Cuban refugees legal entrance into the country, as
well as the different forms of assistance from the government and private sources for
resettlement. Chapter 4 will provide a similar same examination of Haitian refugees and
their reception and treatment by the U.S. government.
CHARACTERISTICS OF HAITIAN REFUGEES AND THEIR RECEPTION AND
TREATMENT IN THE UNITED STATES
Despite the codification of refugee law and the neutral humanitarian standards for
affording political asylum in the United States, the evidence demonstrated that the
application of refugee policy has been extremely susceptible to external influences.
During the Cold War, the predominant influence on both Cuban and Haitian refugees was
ideological preferences inherent in U.S. foreign policy. Refugees whose admission
furthered the Cold War foreign policy obj ectives of the United States were openly
welcomed, while those whose flight maligned regimes with friendly relations to the
United States were largely excluded. No two groups demonstrated this influence of the
foreign policy influence in U.S. refugee policy more clearly than Cuban and Haitian
Chapter 4 discusses the various factors which have contributed to the pattern of
differential treatment afforded to Haitian refugees by the U.S. government, when
compared to Cuban refugees. The nature of U. S.-Haitian governmental relations is
addressed first, with attention to the long pattern of tolerance by the U. S. government of
human-rights violations in Haiti. Second, this chapter documents the maj or waves of
migration from Haiti to the United States, noting the particular characteristics of the
arriving refugees. Third, this chapter details the deficit of U.S.-based support for the
Haitian refugee community. Finally, this chapter documents the reception and treatment
of Haitian refugees since 1957 by the U.S. government. Chapters 5 will compare and
analyze the respective treatment of Cuban and Haitian refugees presented in Chapters 3
United States Relations with Haiti
In 1957, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier took the reins of power during a military
coup and declared himself president for life, initiating one of the most brutal dictatorships
Haiti has ever known (Lennox 1993). During the fourteen-year rule of Papa Doc, Haiti
sunk even further into poverty, earning the ignoble distinction of being the poorest
country in the western hemisphere (Fergueson 1987: 58). "Those who resisted
Duvalier' s tyranny were systematically silenced, and tens of thousands of Haitians fled
for their personal safety" (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 78). While this reign of
ruthlessness did not go unnoticed in Washington, the U.S. government showed
remarkable tolerance of the human-rights violations in Haiti, so long as Papa Doc was an
ally against communism.
Despite U.S. ideals of democratic governance, the U.S. government made it clear
that the Haitian dictator could be an exception to the rule. Papa Doc seduced the U.S.
government with the pledge to raise Haiti out of the ranks of the Third World and his
promise to be a bulwark against the threat of communist incursions into Haiti (Ferguson
1987: 43). With the Cold War heating up, and the threat of communism lurking just forty
miles across with Windward Passage in Cuba, Papa Doc's value as a political chip in the
containment of communism was great (Ferguson 1987: 43). "The U.S. dilemma was
obvious: to support an unsavory regime which would remain anti-Communist if paid to
do so, or withdraw aid and run the risk of 'losing' another formerly dependable fiefdom"
(Ferguson 1987: 43). The quid pro quo between the two countries was fairly simple:
Haitian regimes joined in the U.S. efforts to isolate and contain the communist influence
from Cuba, while the U.S. government simultaneously provided military and financial
assistance to Haiti and disregarded evidence of egregious human-rights violations
(Zucker and Zucker 1996: 34).
While relations between the United States and the Haitian dictator cooled toward
the end of the Kennedy Administration, Papa Doc was able to stave off serious
challenges to his authority by exploiting his strategic importance as an ally against the
spread of communism in the Caribbean (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 80-81). The U.S.
policy of tolerance for the Haitian dictatorship' s excesses and brutality continued beyond
Papa Doc' s fourteen year rule when, in 1971, Papa Doc passed the reigns of power onto
his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who carried on the dictator's legacy of
violence (Ferguson 1987). Although the U.S. government endorsed his claim to power,
restored formal ties and reinstated financial assistance with Haiti, Baby Doc's track
record on human rights and repression quickly began to resemble that of his father' s
(Lennox 1993). A virtually uninterrupted flow of Haitians asylum-seekers during the
transition of power to Baby Doc indicated that the new Duvalier dictator exhibited the
same repression of civil society as his father (Loescher and Scanlan 1986).
During years of Duvalier totalitarian rule, citizens of Haiti regularly suffered severe
forms of political and economic repression (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 78). While the
Haitian refugees' fleeing the oppressive conditions were frequently disregarded by the
United States, the totalitarian regimes fueling their flight enjoyed largely favorable
support from the United States (Harris 1993: 280).
As the Cold War ended, prospects for a new era of stability and democracy in Haiti
were as promising as they had ever been. On December 16, 1990, Haitians celebrated
their first experience with a free and fair democratic election by choosing Jean-Bertrand
Aristide by a clear margin of victory (sixty-seven percent over the other eleven
candidates) (Zimmerman 1993: 391). Within months of his monumental election,
Aristide's future as the President of Haiti took a drastic turn. In September 1991,
Aristide was overthrown and forced to leave the country in a coup headed by the
Commander-in-Chief of the Haitian army, Raoul Cedras (Zimmerman 1993: 392).
In the United States, domestic pressure for a change in the policy toward the
Haitian stalemate raised the stakes for the Clinton Administration (Zucker and Zucker
1996: 117). Domestic support for Haitian asylum seekers was a consistent source of
pressure on the Clinton Administration while there was an adamant rej section of the
prospect of another mass influx of Haitians among the American public. "By the summer
of 1994, when the threat of another Mariel loomed, domestic fears had become
predominant. Indeed, it could be argued that our invasion and occupation of Haiti--
foreign policy decisions--were essentially motivated by the fears of the American public
of large numbers of Haitian asylum seekers" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 6). The Clinton
Administration was caught in a delicate situation. While not wanting to be criticized as
having a racist refugee policy from pro-Haitian supports, the Clinton Administration was
equally fearful that any significant acceptance and accommodation of Haitian asylum
seekers would open the floodgates for others and would incense domestic opposition to a
new influx of Haitian refugees (Newland 1995: 201). "It became increasingly clear that,
for the refugee flow, the only cure was prevention, and the only acceptable form of
prevention was the restoration of elected government in Haiti. This became the focus of
US policy" (Newland 1995: 201).
As the migration crisis intensified and the coup leaders in Haiti persisted in their
recalcitrance, the Clinton Administration, with UN authorization, decided to employ
military intervention, "to use all necessary means to facilitate the departure from Haiti of
the military leadership" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 118). In September 1994, as a U. S..
led military intervention was poised to advance on Haiti, the coup leaders agreed to step
down in exchange for a general amnesty granted by the Haitian parliament and the lifting
of international sanctions (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 119). While a forceful military
intervention was avoided, and order was restored along with the Aristide government,
problems remained for Haiti's nascent democracy and unsteady relations with the United
In spite of two successive free elections in Haiti, first in 1995 with the election of
Rene Preval, followed by the re-election of Aristide in 2000, political and economic
conditions in the country remained volatile (Human Rights Watch 2001). Allegations of
fraudulent legislative elections in 2000 resulted in a political stalemate, which led to
violence, political instability, and has had severe economic consequences. Opposition
groups, refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the government, engaged in violent
protests and were met with equally violent reprisals from the Haitian government. The
international community suspended most financial assistance to the government as a
result of the election irregularities, amounting to over $500 million by 2003 (CIA World
Fact Book 2003).
By 2004, the political conflict reached crisis proportions. In February 2004, armed
supporters of the government clashed with opposition groups who had taken over various
cities in Haiti and were advancing toward the capital Port Au Prince. Opposition forces
had rejected international efforts to reach a political compromise to the conflict and by
March 1, 2004 occupied Port Au Prince. President Aristide, under U.S. escort, fled to
Africa, as rebel leaders declared victory (Wines 2004).
Characteristics of the Maj or Phases of Flight of Haitian Refugees
Unlike the highly visible and thoroughly recorded pattern of the flight of Cubans
from the start of the revolution, there is a distinct paucity of documentation regarding the
early episodes of Haitians fleeing to the United States. Since the beginning of the
Duvalier dynasty in 1957, Haitians have been arriving in the United States in large
numbers. While some of these Haitian migrants have met the stringent eligibility
requirements to gain legal entry, the vast majority, estimated at as many as 300,000, have
entered the United States illegally (Loescher and Scanlan 1984). For various economic,
political, geographic and social reasons the maj ority of Haitians have chosen the United
States over other countries as their destination point (Miller 1984: 37).
Haitian arrivals have covered the spectrum of demographics and social strata,
ranging from elite businessmen and professionals, to the desperately impoverished
unskilled and uneducated. However, despite the wide range of personal backgrounds and
individual motivations, be they direct political persecution or indirect victimization of
repressive governmental policies, most Haitian arrivals over the last half century share
one thing in common: their departure from Haiti took the form of escape rather than a
Arrival of Haitian Refugees from 1957 to 1971
Although there is little documentation of the arrival of Haitians fleeing their
homeland before 1971, it is generally understood that Haitians began to escape Haiti
upon the inauguration of the Duvalier regime in 1957 (Loescher and Scanlan 1993: 100).
Upon his ascendancy to the Presidency of Haiti, opposition groups who dared challenge
his legitimacy, namely political opponents, student leaders, and trade unionists, came
under severe repression (McCalla 1991:3). "Those who resisted Duvalier' s tyranny were
systematically silenced, and tens of thousands of Haitians fled for their personal safety"
(Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 79).
The first arrivals were mostly businessmen, professionals and other middle to upper
class Haitians who were generally highly skilled and educated, with the ability to adjust
and assimilate into a new environment relatively successfully (McCalla 1991: 3). These
first refugees were required to pay for a passport, exit visa, exit taxes, and compulsory
travel insurance (Loescher and Scanlan 1984: 319). Other than these requirements, the
Haitian government did little to prevent or dissuade their exit, as the departure of
potential dissidents helped to further solidify the Duvalier regime (Loescher and Scanlan
1984: 319). These Haitians mostly headed to the United States by air and arrived with
some type of nonimmigrant visa, which they would overstay once it had successfully
secured their arrival (Loescher and Scanlan 1984: 319).
Larger groups from the middle to lower class followed this first wave of Haitians
escaping the Duvalier regime (McCalla 1991). "As economic and political conditions
deteriorated during the 1960s, poorer, less educated Haitians joined the migrant stream"
(Zucker and Zucker 1996: 35). With the spread of terror and violence at the hands of the
Tonton Macoutes and the self-declaration of "President for Life" by Papa Doc, conditions
in Haiti spiraled downward, leading to an increasing number of Haitians from all social
backgrounds who perceived escape as the only option (McCalla 1991). "What began as a
trickle in the beginning of the 1960s began to look like a small flood by the end of the
decade" (Loescher and Scanlan 1984: 319). It should be noted that since commercial
travel was the predominant avenue for flight to the United States during this phase of the
Haitian exodus, many poor and less educated Haitians had to flee to the Bahamas and
other more easily reachable destinations (Loescher and Scanlan 1984: 319).
Arrival of Haitian Refugees from 1971-1980
The generous tolerance afforded by the U.S. government toward Haitian arrivals
ended with the transfer of power to Baby Doc in 1971. Upon the installation of Baby
Doc at the helm of Haiti's government, Haitians began arriving in south Florida on
makeshift boats in large numbers. The INS does not have a comprehensive record of the
number of Haitians applying for asylum before 1980, making it impossible to determine
precisely how many Haitians were approved or denied. However, while estimates vary
greatly, it is approximated that from 1972 to 1980, between 30,000 and 50,000 Haitians
fled to the United States seeking asylum; and that only 25 to 50 of these asylum
applicants were granted political asylum (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 80).
The make-up of those Haitians fleeing in 1972 differed from the previous wave
(Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 80). They fled for various reasons: dire poverty, lack of
political freedom, or legal protection, governmental corruption, and the "avarice and
brutality of the state" (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 80). "The new Haitian refugees were
very different from the professional and skilled workers who had migrated to the United
States and Canada during the 1960s: they were uneducated, unskilled, overwhelmingly
black, and speakers of Creole... These were the poor of the poorest nation in the Westemn
Hemisphere" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 115). In contrast with middle and upper classes
Haitians who arrived before 1971, assimilating into life in the United States was a more
difficult task for the poorly educated and unskilled among this new wave of Haitian
refugees (McCalla 1991: 3).
This next wave of Haitians also differed in the manner in which they fled. In
contrast to the arrival by air of the previous group of Haitians, this new group was forced
to travel in an infinitely more treacherous sea j ourney on unsound, unreliable vessels
(McCalla 1991: 5). "A Haitian national did not leave his country, he escaped from it.
secretly, at great cost, and at greater risk" (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 181). Added to the
Haitians' dire predicament of fleeing an oppressive regime at great risk to their health and
safety was the growing resentment in the United States, both in the public opinion and in
the development of new government tactics to prevent their arrival.
Before 1978, the INS listed 1,926 Haitians who had reached the United States who
were regarded as excludable or deportable (Miller 1984: xii). In the next two years, the
number of Haitian cases pending before the INS increased almost twofold with 1,905
arriving in 1978 and 3,859 in 1979 (Miller 1984: xii). According to Masud-Piloto, "an
estimated 60,000 had entered during the area [Florida] illegally since 1972" (1996: 111).
With fears of a "black tide" of Haitians rising, the U.S. government worked to prevent the
granting of Haitian asylum seekers via a program of accelerated deportation (Loescher
and Scanlan 1986: 175).
In 1980, the mass influx of Cubans fleeing Mariel Harbor overshadowed a smaller
yet significant flow of Haitian refugees to the Florida shores. "By 1980 more than 1,000
[Haitians] a month were braving the rough 800-mile voyage to south Florida in leaky
wooden sailboats" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 115). Although the INS had proven capable of
coping with the challenges of 175,000 Indochinese and 125,000 Cuban refugees, an
estimated 25,000 Haitian boat people who reached Florida in 1980 were seen as infinitely
more problematic (Stepick 1982: 12). In response to the lingering threat of a mass influx
of Haitians, the Reagan Administration instituted an interdiction program that was
extremely successful in plugging the passage for fleeing Haitians, slowing the entry
dramatically. "The migration of Haitian boat people to the United States, which had
approached 12,000 during President Carter' s last year in office, slowed to a trickle.
Those who did reach the United States were either deported or 'detained' in guarded
camps" (Loescher and Scanlan 1986: 188). According to U.S. Coast Guard statistics,
from 1982 to the beginning of 1991, approximately 22,712, Haitians were interdicted en
route to the United States (Coast Guard 2004).
Arrival of Haitian Refugees in the Post-Cold War Period
Upon the ascendance of Aristide to the Presidency of Haiti in February of 1991, the
number of Haitians fleeing the island decreased substantially, highlighted by a several
month period when the Coast Guard did not encounter any Haitians attempting to arrive
by sea (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 109). However, this lull in the flow of Haitians seeking
refuge proved to be only a fleeting interval in the nearly fifty year pattern of Haitian
flight. Following the ousting of Aristide from power by a coup in September 1991,
repression resumed in Haiti, leading once again to mass flight from the island. "The next
coup created a large-scale exodus from the country; in fact, the United States Coast
Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians from 1991 to 1992, more than the combined
number of rescued refugees from the previous ten years" (Swindells 1997: 907). As the
conditions in Haiti deteriorated under the control of the military coup, Haitians continued
to flee in large numbers, most of whom were interdicted and forcibly repatriated by the
U.S. Coast Guard (Jones 1993: 87).
Over the next several years, the United States and the international community
strove to establish stability in Haiti and a resumption of the Aristide government to power
while Haitians continued to flee. From 1991 until 1995, most of which time Aristide was
in exile, U.S. Coast Guard records indicated that approximately 68,998 Haitians were
interdicted at sea en route to the United States (U. S. Coast Guard 2004). The flow of
Haitians did not subside until September 1994 when the United States was finally
successful in restoring Aristide to the Presidency. However, despite the ostensible
resolution to the migration crisis, the arrival of Haitian refugees on the shores of Florida
did not end. According to statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard, from 1995 until 2004
approximately 1 1,887 Haitians were interdicted at sea, only 1,766 Haitians of which were
granted political asylum (U.S. Coast Guard 2004). In 2004, Haitians continued fleeing
for their safety, only to discover that they will most likely be deported or detained upon
arrival in the United States.
U.S.-Based Domestic Support for Haitian Refugees
In sharp contrast to the power wielded by the Cuban-American community, there
has been a conspicuous absence of domestic support for the plight of Haitian refugees.
The U.S. foreign policy bias creating a preference for refugees fleeing communism
during the Cold War had the inverse effect of blocking recognition of those fleeing
regimes friendly to the United States. With this foreign policy factor stacked against
them, the only hope for Haitian asylum seekers in the United States was a substantial
domestic support campaign. "Unlike the Cubans, who received full governmental
support until they settled, Haitians were left on their own and had to depend on charitable
organizations, churches, and Miami's black community" (Masud-Piloto 1996: 115).
Unfortunately for the thousands of Haitians who arrived during the Cold War, U. S. based
domestic support for their plight was insufficient to make any significant effect on U.S.
refugee policy formulation.
During the Cold War, "domestic pressures carried little weight. The Haitian
communities in the United States were economically and politically insignificant. The
churches and civil rights groups that defended the Haitians were politically unimportant"
(Zucker and Zucker 1996: 34). Haitian exile leaders failed both in their attempts to
launch a campaign to overthrow the Duvalier regimes, and to develop a cohesive
opposition group similar to Miami based Cuban-American resistance to Castro (Loescher
and Scanlan 1984: 320). The first wave of educated and professional Haitians who
arrived in the 1960s, were not as fervently supportive of the uneducated and unskilled
Haitian refugees following in their footsteps (Masud-Piloto 1996: 115; Miller 1984).
In contrast with the powerful Cuban-American community, Haitian refugees did
not have the benefit of a Einancially and politically powerful U.S. based emigre
community to lobby for their admission and subsequent resettlement (Zucker and Zucker
1996). "Unfortunately, unlike many other foreigners who have come to the United
States, the Haitian boat people have not found kinsmen here who are well established and
able to help them bear their burdens. Instead, the Haitian newcomers have found
thousands of other undocumented Haitians, who also exist in a state of limbo" (Miller
1984: 172). Various organizations were founded, including the Haitian-American
Community Association of Dade County, Haitian Refugee Proj ect of America, Inc.,
American Haitian Humanitarian Foundation, and the Haitian Refugee Proj ect. (Miller
1984: 172-177). However, these organizations, which were primarily aimed at providing
human services, community education, and influencing U.S. policy decisions, were
Ironically, while the fears over j obs and other costs fueled many among the
African-American community to resent the Haitian arrivals, African-American
organizations were among the most important supporters of Haitian asylum seekers
(Miller 1984: 177). The Congressional Black Caucus and the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have both been extremely sympathetic to
the plight of the Haitian asylum seekers (Miller 1984: 176). "Proclaiming its solidarity
with the Haitian refugees, the caucus insisted that the United States must pursue a refugee
policy that is not 'tainted by racial ideological or class prejudices'" (Miller 1984: 176).
In addition to backing from segments of the African-American community, Haitian
asylum seekers were also supported by legal advocacy groups.
For most of the Cold War, the maj or challenge to the U. S. policy toward Haitian
asylum seekers came on the legal front. Legal advocates, namely the Haitian Refugee
Center, brought various class action suits challenging the constitutionality of numerous
U.S. strategies to interdict, deport and detain Haitian asylum seekers. While several legal
challenges to U.S. refugee policy were successful in court, resulting in temporary
injunctions or invalidations of U. S. refugee policies, none were ultimately able to force
the government into making any comprehensive changes to its policy of rej ecting Haitian
The most successful lobbying effort in support of Haitian asylum seekers came
during the Mariel boatlift, when charges of discrimination were strong enough to provoke
a change of U.S. refugee policy. In 1980, with the Cuban-Haitian entrant classification,
President Carter agreed to allow Haitian arrivals to benefit from the same parole status as
their Cuban counterparts. For most of the Cold War, however, domestic groups
advocating on behalf of Haitian asylum seekers were rarely able to do anything other than
draw attention to the double standard inherent in U.S. refugee policy.
Public Resentment and Racism toward Haitian Refugees
In addition to lacking the Einancial and political means to exert significant influence
on U.S. policy-makers, the Haitian emigre community has not been welcomed by the
American public. Initially, the American public exhibited uncertainty over how to react
to the arriving Haitians. "Some were struck by the desperation and courage motivating a
700-mile sea j ourney in overcrowded, barely seaworthy boats. Others believed that the
Haitians were a disruptive force, destroying the community and draining public
resources" (Stepick 1982: 1 1) As opposed to the public perception of Cuban refugees as
members of the middle and upper class, Haitians were depicted as much less desirable
guests (Masud-Piloto 1996: 115). "The race, class, language, and culture of the Haitians,
as well as the popular belief that many had the HIV virus, unquestionably contributed to
the domestic resistance to their admission" (Johnson 1998: 1144). Due to the human
services that the Haitians required, resettlement costs were perceived to far exceed that of
the Cuban refugees (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 34). "While Miami's economy may have
been rejuvenated by Cubans, the black Haitians without skills or capital were viewed as
an unwanted burden" (Stepick 1982: 11).
While racial prejudice clearly played a part in the resentment directed at the
Haitians from the white segments of the general public, it is important to note that many
among the African-American community also felt threatened by competition for jobs and
other needs from the admission of the Haitians for the same reasons they were resi stant to
the admission of Cubans. "Many black Americans... have developed a general
antiforeigner attitude-considering all newcomers to be threats, economically--and
because Haitian boat people are considered competitors with black Americans for many
low-paying jobs, the former are not highly regarded" (Miller 1984: 177). By all
accounts, the lack of domestic support for, and the general public resentment toward,
Haitian refugees during the Cold War made their case for admission into the United
States infinitely more problematic, especially when compared to the experience of Cuban
refugees during the same period.
Early Success for Haitian Refugee Advocates in the Post-Cold War Period
While there have only been a few instances where Haitian refugee advocacy groups
mounted a domestic campaign significant enough to alter refugee policy, these instances
were important. Principal among these was the successful lobbying effort for reversal of
the U.S. interdiction program against Haitian asylum seekers in 1994. In the face of anti.
immigration opposition, and with the threat of a massive influx of Haitians looming, the
Black Congressional Caucus and other civil rights groups pressured the Clinton
Administration into modifying the U.S. policy toward Haitians, namely eliminating the
summary return of Haitians interdicted at sea (Zucker and Zucker 1996). Prominent
African-American civil rights activist, Randall Robinson, carried out a well publicized
hunger strike in protest of the interdiction policy (Helton 2002: 92). The Black
Congressional Caucus introduced bills to the House of Representatives and Senate aimed
at tightening the embargo, terminating commercial flights to Haiti, blocking Haitian
financial assets held in the United Sates, and stopping the automatic refoulement of
Haitian asylum-seekers interdicted at sea (Zucker and Zucker 1996: 117). While the bill
was never voted on, the Clinton Administration, realizing that a resolution to the Haitian
political crisis was essential, ultimately yielded to nearly all of its proposals (Newland
1995: 201). For the first time, the collective force of domestic pressure groups
advocating on behalf of Haitian asylum seekers had succeeded in directing U. S. policy.
In 1998, supporters for Haitian refugees scored a second victory with the successful
lobbying effort for the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, HRIFA (8 C.F.R.
254.15). After Congress passed laws granting Cubans and Nicaraguan refugees
permanent legal residence, advocates for Haitian refugees lobbied Congress for equal
treatment for similarly situated Haitians. The legislation waived certain requirements for
applying for legal permanent residency in the United States for Haitian asylum seekers
who had applied for asylum before December 31, 1995, or those who had been paroled
into the country and remained on a temporary status. While the legislation was portrayed
as a success for Haitian asylum seekers, various restrictions in the HRIFA have made
limited the number of Haitians able to benefit from the legislation (8 C.F.R. 254. 15).
Advocates for Haitian asylum seekers have continued to exert pressure on the
George W. Bush Administration to reform the detention and interdiction policies
affecting Haitian asylum seekers. Similarly, as the prospects of a renewed refugee crisis
increase with the political crisis in Haiti, supporters of Haitian asylum seekers are
lobbying for an executive order granting Haitians arrivals the same protections afforded
to citizens of other countries troubled by violent internal conflicts and environmental
Human-rights Violations in Haiti
Haiti's past is a story of unending political violence, economic inequality, and
social strife. The Haitian government' s long history of rule by predatory dictators has left
a legacy of human-rights violations and political repression. During the Duvalier
regimes, political opponents were subj ected to imprisonment, torture and exile; while
other civil and political freedoms were routinely denied to Haitians in general
(Zimmerman 1993: 389). The State became an instrument of terror, maintaining its grip
on power through extreme brutality, fear and repression of civil society (Loescher and
Unlike Cuba, where Castro's government was viewed as the direct antagonist, the
Haitian government was not the only source of violence. "Haiti was in many ways a
police state, not a tightly controlled police state with central lines of authority, such as
existed in communist countries, but a state maintained by petty thieves and mercenaries"
(Zucker and Zucker 1996: 35). As the principal instrument of violence, the Haitian
government relied on the Tonton Macoutes to carry out its harsh rule. "They ruled not by
law, but by absolute terror, wringing tribute from the impoverished populace and
enforcing their demands with arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings" (Zucker and Zucker
1996: 36). In 1973, an Amnesty International investigation alleged serious human-rights
"Amnesty International remains seriously concerned with the continued repression
of dissent in Haiti and the denial of human and legal rights.... The variety of torture
to which the detainee is subjected is incredible... prisons are death traps... [and]
find a parallel with the Nazi concentration camps of the past but have no present.
day equivalent" (Amnesty International Report 1973 in Loescher and Scanlan
A report by the U.S. State Department in 2002 showed that the political crisis in
Haiti has ensured that this record of human-rights violations has persisted into (U. S. State
Department website 2002). On January 15, 2004, Amnesty International reported that,
"The threats to human rights in Haiti, whether from police who use brutality in repressing
demonstrations or from political activists who use violence against their perceived
opponents, are the most serious that we have seen since the 1994 return to democratic
order" (Amnesty International 2004).
U.S. Government Policy toward Haitian Refugees
U.S. Government Economic Justification for Excluding Haitians
"One hundred percent' [of Haitian refugees] came for economic reasons: 'They
want material wealth, whatever that may be to them- a house, a car, a pig."'
Former INS General Counsel Maurice Inman (Bruck 1982 in Lennox 1993: 704)
The U.S. government has consistently depicted Haitian asylum applicants as savvy
economic migrants seeking a short-cut to legal residency (Hull 1985). Defined as such,
Haitians were prejudged by the INS as facially ineligible by the very definition of refugee
status (Hull 1985: 129). With eighty percent of Haitians living in abject poverty, rampant
unemployment, and a life expectancy of fifty-one years (CIA World Fact Book 2003), the
prospect of migrating to a land of promise and plenty is certainly a strong lure for many
poor Haitians. Undoubtedly, thousands of Haitians decided to emigrate to the United
States primarily for the purpose of enhancing their economic livelihood. However, many
scholars assert that the conclusion by the U.S. government that all Haitian arrivals were
purely in search of better economic prospects than exist in Haiti, despite well documented
accounts of political persecution, was both erroneous and duplicitous.
During a mass exodus of people from a country, it is often extremely difficult to
ascertain the motives of an individual seeking asylum (Forsythe 1990). "Distinctions
between economic and political migrants are scarcely tenable from either a logical or
moral perspective, and America's persistence in honoring this distinction may even be
unwarranted from a legal point of view" (Hull 139). In Haiti, economic conditions were
often inseparable from oppressive political factors, as poverty can be a direct result of