Appeals Court Ruling Allows US To Return Haitian Refugees

A FEDERAL appeals court gave the government approval Tuesday to resume forced repatriation of Haitian refugees but a federal judge in Miami ordered that no Haitians be returned until a Friday hearing.The three-judge panel of the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a decision made Nov. 19 by US District Judge Donald Graham of Miami. The appeals court ruling was a major victory for the Bush administration, which had sent Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, the government's top courtroom lawyer, to argue the case. The order by the Miami judge last month had covered more than 5,500 Haitians picked up from boats en route to the United States since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the impoverished Caribbean nation's first democratically elected leader, was ousted Sept. 30 in a military coup. The US is keeping 5,516 Haitians at a camp at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Another 955 are on board Navy and Coast Guard ships. Two of three appeals judges reviewing the lower court order wrote in a brief opinion that federal law "provides no enforceable rights to the Haitians...." But in a strongly worded dissent, Judge Joseph Hatchett compared the forced repatriation of the Haitians to "Jewish refugees seeking to escape the horror of Nazi Germany (who) sat on ships in New York Harbor, only to be rebuffed and returned to Nazi Germany gas chambers." In Miami, Ira Kurzban, the lead attorney for the Haitian Refugee Center, said he would file new motions Wednesday with both the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals and the US District Court to halt the Haitians' return. Asylum in the US has been granted to 215 Haitians, while another 277 have gone to other countries. The United States returned 611 Haitians before the federal judge last month ordered the repatriations halted.

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