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Hint of Court Ruling Prompts Plan to Protect Detained Haitians

February 1, 1992

ATLANTA (AP) _ The U.S. Supreme Court late Friday stayed a lower court’s order that blocked the forced return of thousands of Haitian refugees, casting confusion on their status while an appeals court here considered their fate.

The Justice Department considers that it now has the authority to start repatriating the Haitians, even before the 11th Circuit Circuit Court of Appeals decides on their fate, said a senior department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Haitian refugee advocates agreed that the high court’s ruling stays a Miami District judge’s ban on returning 9,000 refugees detained at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

″As a practical matter, it means the government is free to begin the forced return of Haitians until the 11th Circuit’s decision,″ said Ira Kurzban, of counsel to the Haitian Refugeee Center.

However, Linda Pritt, deputy clerk for the appeals court in Atlanta, said the Supreme Court’s ruling can’t be implemented until the appeals court decides on the case.

The government had requested the Supreme Court’s ruling. It voted 6-3 Friday night to delay a lower court’s order that blocks forced repatriation. That order ″is stayed pending disposition of the case″ by the appeals court in Atlanta, said Supreme Court spokeswoman Toni House.

The Supreme Court’s ruling cast more confusion on the status of the refugees. Earlier Friday, the 11th Circuit in Atlanta erroneously announced it had ruled in favor of the government. The court later withdrew the order, saying it was a clerical error.

U.S. Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would push for quick approval of legislation preventing the forced return of refugees, saying the clerical error meant such an order in fact was imminent.

The three-judge appeals panel gave the clerk’s office a ″proposed order with the intent to have the matter held pending further instructions,″ said Deputy Clerk David Maland. ″We misunderstood.″

But Schumer said the draft was a precursor for an imminent forced return of the refugees, who say army terror forced them to flee Haiti after the Sept. 30 ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected president.

″This was obviously a ruling that the three judges went over and instructed one of their clerks to write,″ said Schumer spokesman Bob McCarson. ″It’s clearly the intent of the judges of the 11th Circuit to allow the deportation.″

The court didn’t indicate when it would rule in the case.

Schumer is co-sponsor of a bill pending in the House Immigration, Refugees and International Law subcommittee. He’s trying to get the bill to a vote on the House floor by early next week, and called Speaker Tom Foley on Friday to ″do what he can to get the bill on the fast track,″ McCarson said.

The bill would grant the Haitians temporary protected status until President Bush certifies to Congress that democracy is restored in Haiti.

The United States and the Organization of American States have refused to recognize the army supported regime that replaced Aristide, and imposed a harsh economic embargo on Haiti to press for his return.

However, the United States says the refugees are fleeing poverty, not political repression. More than 14,000 Haitians have fled the Caribbean nation since the coup.

After the erroneous ruling, U.S. Attorney William Barr in Washington immediately said the government had clear authority to repatriate the Haitians. Another government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the process could begin ″in the very near future.″