Let the Children In

RECENT shifts in the Clinton administration's policy toward Cuba may have distracted American public attention from that other troubled Caribbean country, Haiti. Many of the thousands of Cubans held in camps at the United States base at Guantanamo Bay are being allowed into the US after all.

But there are some 400 Haitians still being held at Guantanamo, too. They are not being given the same kind of open-door treatment as the Cubans since, after all, US officials point out, with the safe return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti is a democracy.

Yeah, right. But there are still plenty of reasons for individual Haitians not to want to go back.

Half of the Haitians at Guantanamo are children. They are showing signs of the strain of living in legal limbo.

The administration has said that those children whose close family members have been allowed into the United States will be allowed in too. But in fact many of these children are being sent back to Haiti.

And although the Justice Department has said that none of the children will be repatriated to Haiti until relatives there have been traced to ensure that there is an adequate home for them, a recent report by two advocacy groups active on the issue called some of the placements made ''careless.'' Human rights organizations have found that some of the children returned to Haiti are homeless, or have parents in the United States.

Whatever one thinks of the process whereby the US government assesses individual applications for asylum in the United States, it would seem that once adults have been found worthy of asylum, the hard part of the decision is over. Saying yes to their young children should follow on naturally.

All of these young Haitians have close family in the United States; letting them into the US would mean Haitians were being treated as Cuban children in similar circumstances have been treated.

The inconsistency between stated policy and action on this point may be simply the result of a breakdown of internal communications. It would be understandable if the situation in Bosnia, in all its frustrating complexity, had distracted White House attention from the Haitians. But all the more the administration should welcome the opportunity to deal with a problem whose solution is so relatively simple.

Let the children in, Mr. President.

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