404. Airgram A–127 From the Embassy in Haiti to the Department of State1

Haitian Refugees Claiming Political Asylum


Action decisions are needed regarding the fate of the more than 800 Haitians the INS is processing as illegal aliens, most of whom seek political refugee status. These refugees, however, fit into a long established pattern of massive Haitian emigration for economic purposes. Most if not all of them are ineligible for immigration or temporary worker/trainee visas due to their lack of education or job skills. We believe that President Jean-Claude Duvalier is sincere in his private assurances to us that no returning refugee will face reprisals. He realizes that the success of his ambitious economic plans depends upon his international acceptability. His relatively benign rule has already boosted tourism, and attracted the first significant foreign aid and technical assistance for Haiti since the early 1960s. Moreover, Haiti is fast emerging from its diplomatic isolation as it seeks new sources of trade and investment. However, it remains possible that in a moment of panic, the current regime could revert temporarily to terrorism tactics during [Page 1046]which returned refugees could be more vulnerable than other Haitian citizens. So far, however, the GOH record on refugees is good, although not perfect.

Unfortunately, there is little this post can do to evaluate the factual claims of political asylum aspirants. We feel the GOH would sour on unilateral post efforts at fact finding, while GOH security officials are unlikely to provide proof of their own misdeeds, if any. Haitians who came from third countries in most cases had an opportunity to seek legal admission to the U.S., and failed to do so. Haitians who arrived directly, often at great personal risk in small boats, are in most cases similar to the many other economic refugees from the Caribbean or Mexico who enter the U.S. illegally in search of jobs. Because of the underlying economic motivation, nonenforcement of the law concerning illegal aliens would invite an armada of small Haitian boats to set sail for Florida. The solution to possible inequities of treatment of Haitian v. Cuban refugees lies in legislative action rather than nonenforcement of our immigration law.

If the USG ever lifts its trade and diplomatic sanctions against Cuba, the Department might consider requesting Congress to drop or modify the special legislation on Cuban refugees to ensure equality of treatment to economic refugees from all countries.

We recommend (1) normal enforcement of the exclusion provisions of our immigration law; (2) continued reminders to the GOH of the potential adverse public relations impact of any reprisals against returning refugees; (3) a démarche to the GOH urging its public welcoming of returning refugees without reprisals, which could help immeasurably in establishing Duvalier’s bona fides among skeptical Americans and Haitian exiles; and (4) a démarche to the GOH urging the arrest and prosecution of those persons who smuggle Haitians into the U.S. for personal gain. End summary.

[Omitted here is the body of the airgram.]

  1. Summary: Noting that the United States Government faced the problem of handling the cases of Haitian migrants who claimed political asylum, the Embassy recommended “normal enforcement of the exclusion provisions of our immigration law” and suggested that the Haitian Government be reminded that any persecution of repatriated illegal aliens would have a negative impact on the country’s image.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files, 1970–1973, ARA/CAR, Lot 75D474, POL 30 Refugee and Migration, 1974. Confidential. Drafted by Vincent; cleared by Montgomery, Carbone, Key, Wilson, and Thomson; and approved by Isham. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text omitted by the editors. In an August 16 letter to Kellogg that referred to mounting Church opposition to the U.S. position on Haitian refugees, Isham reported that he “had just mentioned how serious the Haitian refugee problem was becoming for us” to Brutus, who was “showing considerable sensitivity to domestic difficulties we face that affect congressional opinion.” (Ibid.)