399. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs (Burke) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Shlaudeman)1

Haitian Refugees in Miami

Increasingly, Haitians have been making their way to the Miami area in small boats and without documents. This influx is clearly not related to the political climate in Haiti, which has demonstrably improved enormously over the last three years but rather to economic distress in the countryside, expulsions by the Government of the Bahama Islands of illegal immigrants, difficulties in obtaining visas (see attached summary of issuances and refusals), and the success of the operation itself, word of which, of course, has filtered back to Haiti. Once the Haitians arrive in the U.S. and are apprehended by the Immigration Service, they are subject to deportation as illegal immigrants. Invariably, they claim political asylum.

In accordance with established procedures, the Immigration Service, which has primary jurisdiction in these cases, takes individual statements from the would-be asylees and forwards them to the Department of State for its recommendations. Each statement is considered carefully and sympathetically with a view to determining whether or not its author has established that he is, in the words of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” Except for a very small percentage of the cases examined, the claim to political asylum is found to be groundless. Indeed, most of the refugees do not even try to support the claim but freely admit that they left Haiti because they had no employment. Others offer palpably false stories, such as that recently told by a man who alleged that he had left [Page 1036]Haiti because the police were killing all the illiterates in his village (the population as a whole is more than 80 percent illiterate!). A very few seem to have at least a tenuous claim; in such cases, the individual is invariably given the benefit of the doubt.

When their claims are rejected, the Haitians can and, with the assistance of Haitians legally in the U.S. and voluntary agencies, do obtain legal counsel. Their cases are appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals and to the courts, and they thus enjoy the full protection of American law.

We believe that Haitians will continue to arrive in the U.S. illegally and in substantial numbers. To consider all these people as bona fide political asylees and thus allow them to circumvent normal immigration procedures would, in effect, penalize those who legally seek entry into the U.S.


Visa Issuances and Refusals at Port-au-Prince, FY 1971–73

Non-Immigrant Visas Immigrant Visas
Issued Refused Issued Refused
FY 71 – 10,134 3,375 5,874 1,960
FY 72 – 7,829 2,992 4,828 1,713
FY 73 – 9,014 2,164 4,178 1,804
  1. Summary: Burke informed Shlaudeman that Haitians were increasingly traveling to the United States in small boats in search of better economic opportunities and filing claims for political asylum upon arrival.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files, 1970–1973, ARA/CAR, Lot 75D474, POL 30 Refugee and Migration, 1974. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Simms. On April 18, 1973, officials at the Department of State and the Immigration and Naturalization Service met and agreed that “it was necessary to stop the influx of Haitians into the U.S. by acting quickly” in ruling on their asylum claims. (Memorandum of conversation, April 18, 1973; ibid., POL 30 HAI)