Some soul-searching on asylum

The opinion-page article ``US `Interest' Limited to Keeping Haitians at Home,'' Aug. 4, challenges all foes and advocates of United States military intervention to rethink assumptions that supposedly explain why ``national interest in Haiti is to keep the Haitians there instead of here.''

The Haitian refugee crisis has been characterized and irresistibly intertwined with the resolution of the political chaos in Haiti. Statistics do support such a linkage in US policy if one compares the near-total halt of emigration from Haiti before the coup with the vast refugee exodus that has occurred since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown from his duly-elected office.

The piece frankly elucidates a number of troubling ironies which feed the refugee crisis debate, only to reinforce erroneous stereotypical assumptions of Haitian asylum seekers. The author sympathizes with the difficulty of separating purely economic reasons from political motives for fleeing Haiti. He points out the irony in asserting, ``If you have a well-founded fear of starvation, that's too bad.''

The real irony is that most Haitians who actually manage to obtain some kind of hearing have, on average, a stronger well-founded fear of persecution than the national average for political-asylum applicants interviewed in the US.

If we still embrace the principle of equality under the law, why shouldn't we simply treat Haitians as we treat any other fleeing asylum-seeker who reaches our borders? Must we not ask ourselves why we provide asylum seekers from anywhere else in the world an asylum hearing, even those who flee for economic reasons, but deny that privilege to bona fide Haitian refugees?

To argue that we do not want more people as a justification for keeping Haitians away from our shores obscures an often-forgotten fact that only Haitians are summarily rejected from our borders. Mark Carrie, Washington

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