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Hold the wretched refuse.

Immigration is much on the minds of Americans these days. Small wonder. You can hardly turn on television or pick up a newspaper without seeing images of teeming hordes headed for our shores from China or Haiti.

Forgetting for the moment the more nostalgic and appealing pictures of the ancestors who built our "nation of immigrants"--as well as the substantial contribution immigrant labor, legal and otherwise, makes to the U.S. economy--the news media have been sounding the alarm lately, loudly decrying the terrorists, tax-evaders, and assorted huddled masses poised to overrun us.

These racist and alarmist stories are in sync with the message from Washington. The most appalling news on U.S. immigration policy came in June, when the Supreme Court upheld the Clinton Administration's practice of intercepting and returning Haitian refugees shortly after they set sail for the United States. It was a particularly despicable piece of legalistic maneuvering that sustained the Court's eight-to-one decision.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, reasoned that Federal law and international protocol prohibiting forced repatriation of refugees do not apply in international waters even though, he conceded, forced repatriation might "violate the spirit" of international law, and the law's authors "may not have contemplated that any nation would gather fleeing refugees and return them to the one country they had desperately sought to escape."

Stevens wrote that because the Haitian refugees have not yet reached the safety of another shore, and are therefore not technically "expelled or returned" from another country when the U.S. Coast Guard sends them back, the laws don't apply and the Court's hands are tied.

Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the lone, eloquent dissent to this piece of majority sophistry, arguing that the ban on forcible return of refugees is perfectly clear. The Haitians fleeing their country, he noted, "demand only that the United States, land of refugees and guardian of freedom, cease forcibly driving them back to detention, abuse, and death."

Besides upholding a violation of international law, the Court's decision set an ominous precedent, supporting as it does U.S. interference with foreign citizens outside U.S. borders.

Such interference has already become part of American immigration policy. The U.S. Committee for Refugees reports that the Immigration and Naturalization Service has paid Mexican officials to intercept and repatriate refugees from other Latin American countries, before they can make their way north. And the Senate recently appropriated $350,000 to pay the government of Mexico to carry out the same task.

The United States is becoming increasingly aggressive about discouraging immigration. And the contemptuous treatment of refugees is just part of a disturbing larger pattern, as the Clinton Administration backs away from its campaign pledges to defend human rights. Advocates of immigrants' rights who worked on Clinton's transition team voice an outrage that has become commonplace as the Administration shows its true colors on human and civil rights.

"The phrase, |controlling our borders,' that Clinton used is Bush and Reagan's phrase. It's the same image of hordes of people invading our shores." says Dan Kesselbrenner, director of the Immigration Project of the National Lawyers' Guild. He and others worry that the anti-immigrant tone set in Washington will foster hatred and intolerance in the nation at large. "I really see it as a lack of moral leadership, and it is going to lead to hate crimes," says Kesselbrenner. "If we give in to xenophobia and if people have hate on their minds, we're going to see incidents like you see in Germany, where immigrants are targets for violence. That's what really scares me."

One hopeful sign may be Clinton's appointment of Doris Meissner to be immigration commissioner. Meissner opposed the forced repatriation of Haitian refugees, and she has called the special treatment afforded Cuban exiles over Haitians a "national embarrassment." Herself the daughter of immigrants, she appears to have a more balanced view of people from other countries than do other members of the Administration. There is some hope that she may be able to straighten out the mismanagement at the INS, which has led to an enormous backlog of asylum applications and unlawful attempts to reduce paperwork by sending back politically unpopular immigrants before their pleas for asylum are processed.

How much power Meissner will actually have to set policy is not clear, however. In order to turn the tide on immigration policy, she will have to battle the formidable conservative elements in the Clinton Administration, as well as the President's tendency to loosen his grip on principle as he flaps about in the political winds. One thing is clear--change will not come from the top in this Administration. Advocates for immigrants, and everyone concerned with civil rights, will have to continue to fight for justice just as hard as they did under Republican Administrations.
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Title Annotation:immigration policy
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:802
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