A federal district judge gave the United States government an opportunity to ease its image of dealing more harshly with black Haitian refugees than with the more numerous asylum-seekers who are white. But the Justice Department declined the opportunity, seeming to confirm a double standard going back in less severe form to previous administrations.
The judge ruled that some 1,900 Haitians in detention camps, where many have been for a year, should be paroled in charge of sponsors while their claims to asylum are adjudicated. Instead of complying, the Justice Department has doggedly appealed to a higher court, keeping the Haitians languishing in reportedly deplorable conditions.
No one questions the need for the US to control its borders. But this should be part of a fair and firm policy. As some said when the Reagan administration began unprecedented measures against Haitians last year - including stopping them on the high seas - the decision was so extraordinary that it should have gone forward only with congressional participation and legislative support. There have also been thoughtful suggestions about addressing the flow of Haitians at the source through aid to reduce poverty in Haiti and encourage an easing of political oppression there.
Meanwhile, the humane traditions of the United States remain violated by prolonging the misery of the people in the camps.