Goss demands investigation into Haitian refugees’ landing near Miami

Friday, November 1, 2002

By JENNIFER SERGENT, sergentj@shns.com

WASHINGTON DC U.S. Rep. Porter Goss traveled to South Florida “to find out what was going on” after law enforcement officials rounded up more than 200 Haitian refugees who swam to shore Tuesday from a boat that ran aground near Miami.

“I want to make sure there’s not an intelligence failure that allowed these people to get this close to the coast,” said Goss, R-Sanibel, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Miami Lakes, shared that view. He called on Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice “to see what they know and recommend.

“If 200 Haitian refugees could make it to the Rickenbacker Causeway in downtown Miami, could 200 al-Qaida terrorists make it to the Rickenbacker Causeway in downtown Miami?” Graham asked Thursday.

Goss, who flew to Miami on Wednesday, called top-level Coast Guard officials and “demanded” an investigation of the events surrounding the boat’s landing.

“I’m going to follow this to the end,” he said. “I want to know how this came to pass.”

Goss said he suspected that the Haitians who organized the illegal boat trip had help in the United States, and that Tuesday’s events were staged to inspire widespread support and sympathy for the refugees’ plight.

Why was a television camera already there to film the boat landing, and why were the refugees so dressed up? he asked. “It appears that there was help from this side,” he said.

Goss distributed blame to many Democrats in the events that led to the boat landing.

He pointed to Tuesday’s events as a reason why Congress must pass legislation creating a new Department of Homeland Security. He obliquely accused Graham and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Tallahassee, of allowing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to hold up the bill.

Graham and Nelson were widely quoted this week criticizing the lapses in security that allowed the refugee boat to get so close to U.S. soil. They also condemned a policy that they said unfairly treats Haitian refugees.

“The people talking about the problems are the very people who should be helping us in the U.S. Senate,” Goss said. “To start blaming the Bush administration when Tom Daschle is holding the cards is extremely unfair.”

Graham reminded a reporter that he called for a Homeland Security Department before President Bush did. He also said his legislation to boost seaport security was stalled because House Republicans object to security fees that would be assessed on shippers.

In other matters, Goss angrily defended the Bush administration against attacks on its immigration policy toward Haitian refugees.

The administration adopted a new policy in December that calls for the automatic detention of Haitian asylum seekers until their cases can be heard in court. Other migrants are allowed to live freely in the United States while they await their asylum hearings.

Rather than addressing the policy, Goss focused on the 38-member Congressional Black Caucus, which was instrumental in pressuring President Clinton to invade Haiti in 1994 and re-install exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted in a 1991 military coup.

Goss has long opposed the U.S. intervention that secured power for Aristide, whom he called a thug who has kept his country mired in crushing poverty.

“As the ‘crown jewel’ of the Clinton administration foreign policy, it is a crushing failure,” he said. And as for Aristide, he added, “The Congressional Black Caucus picked the wrong horse. We cannot help Haitians if the Congressional Black Caucus is going to continue to defend Aristide. Aristide is not defensible.”

Caucus member Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Miami, said she was not surprised by Goss’ remarks.

“That is the cloak he has used for 10 years,” said Meek, whose district includes Miami’s Little Haiti. “It’s a diversion to take away from the real situation.”

The “real situation” is the policy that targets Haitian asylum seekers for detention, she said. “Someone high in the Bush administration has decided that Haitians would be kept in indefinite detention.”

Meek interrupted a campaign rally for Gov. Jeb Bush in Miami on Wednesday and asked Bush to get his brother to reverse the policy. Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday that the president won’t interfere with the policy.

Meek said Goss’ comments arise from his own agenda to unseat Aristide. “I’m looking out for the people. I’m not concerned with Aristide. I really could care less about whether Aristide is unseated.”

But in 1994, Meek and other caucus members received widespread publicity in their campaign to return Aristide to power. “We don’t have any other options” than an invasion, she told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time.

Regardless of what’s happening there now, she said Thursday, “there’s no reason we should starve the Haitian people. There’s no reason we should keep them detained.”