Back to Guantánamo

  
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Audio editing by Evan Roberts


For the Biden administration, the arrival of thousands of Haitian immigrants on the southern border has been a telling moment. Instead of rushing relief to and expediting the admission of asylum seekers, the White House focused on the domestic political fallout: trying to appease the nativist right through a massive deportation wave, while defusing criticism from the left by weakly addressing the most visceral actions by border agents caught on camera. Inevitably, no one is happy.

An even more dire response was hinted at last week by NBC News. The story by Jacob Soboroff and Ken Dilanian revealed a posted ad by the Department of Homeland Security for a “new contract to operate a migrant detention facility at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with a requirement that some of the guards speak Spanish and Haitian Creole.” The revelation horrified many Americans, who associate Guantánamo with the worst abuses of the Forever Wars. To Haitians, it brought back an even older memory: of the original Gitmo detention camps, built in the early 1990s to house an earlier group of Haitian refugees.

To dig deeper, I called Jocelyn McCalla, one of the foremost defenders of Haitian migrants’ rights, who devoted years of his life to freeing the original Guantánamo detainees. We talked about the situation on the border, how Guantánamo got to be Guantánamo, and what should be done for the migrants now. MaCalla casts doubt on the insistence of White House spokesman Jennifer Psaki that the ad was “routine.” I also reveal a few details from my upcoming book, Gangsters of Capitalism, for which I traveled to Guantánamo Bay. (The book is available for pre-order now, hint hint.)

Hope you enjoy. Paid subscribers can share their thoughts in the comments at katz.substack.com. Na pale pita.

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Transcript (may contain errors)

Jonathan M. Katz:

[music 00:00:04]. Hello, and welcome to The Long Version. I am Jonathan M. Katz. This is a podcast associated with my newsletter, The Long Version, which you can find at katz.substack.com.

Jonathan M. Katz:

I'm sure a lot of you have seen the images that came recently from the US-Mexico border of Haitian migrants crossing the Rio Grande over a dam only to be threatened, trampled, and forced back across it by US border agents in cowboy hats and tactical armor on horseback. Adding insult to injury, about a week ago NBC News reported that the Biden administration had put out an advertisement looking for a contractor to set up a migrant detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Now, this prompted an enormous hue and cry, especially when it was revealed by NBC that they had made sure to put in the ad that the new detention center guards at Guantánamo should speak Haitian Creole. For those of us who've been paying attention to Haiti for a long time, and those of us who've been paying attention to Guantánamo for a long time, we know that this actually goes back a ways in the history of Guantánamo. That before Guantánamo became associated with the war on terror, with Muslim detainees who were taken off the battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then all over the world in the war on terror, the detention center was actually first built in the 1990s, way before 911, to house Haitians and Cubans who were captured at sea trying to reach the United States.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Now, as some of you know, I have a book coming out in January called Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, The Marines, and The Making and Breaking of America's Empire. It's on sale for preorder right now. You can go to Amazon, or better yet your local independent bookstore and preorder it. Please do.

Jonathan M. Katz:

While I was researching and reporting that book, I went to Guantánamo because it's the place where Smedley Butler, who is essentially the main character of my book, it's a nonfiction book but I think we can call him a character, he certainly was a character. Guantánamo is the place where he started his career, and it's also the place where in 1898 the United States overseas empire really began. But it is, of course, the place that today in 2021, and really for the last 20 years has represented the grosses excesses of American empire.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Again, that's a story that really began in the 1990s. I wanted to bring on somebody who knows about that firsthand. Jocelyn McCalla is the Executive Director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. He is himself Haitian-American and he has been fighting fiercely for the rights of Haitian immigrants. Haitians trying to escape poverty and repression in Haiti to come to the United States since the 1980s, since they were trying to escape the clutches of the dictator, Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Jocelyn was thus one of the first people to be advocating for people trapped at Guantánamo in that original detention camp back in the 1990s. He remembers very well the thousands of Haitians who were trapped there, including many who were trapped for supposed medical reasons; they had HIV. Americans were as afraid of Aids as they were of Haitians and they connected the two in theirs minds in very unfortunate ways.

Jonathan M. Katz:

I talked to Jocelyn last week, I wanted to sort of understand the connections between the period that he was very involved with Haitian migrant rights at Guantánamo in 1990, how that connects to today and this latest threat of dumping Haitians in Guantánamo. It was a fascinating conversation; among other things, I learned that back in the 1990s, McCalla and his group realized that a slot machine had more rights than Haitians, at least as far as Guantánamo Bay was concerned. So, without any further ado, here is my conversation with Jocelyn McCalla.

Jonathan M. Katz:

What was your reaction to seeing the photos from Del Rio, from the Southern Border?

Jocelyn McCalla:

Well, I mean, my reaction is that "same-old-same-old". To a certain extent, the Haitian refugee saga is littered with similar pictures from the time they landed in Florida in 1972 up to now, they usually land in south Florida by boat and the Coast Guard and the Border Patrol obviously very actively tried to catch the Haitians before they disappeared in South Florida. So they were all over the beach. Seeing the Haitians still running from the Border Patrol back then is essentially a reminder of what happened just this past week.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Then you had Haitians being detained at Krome North in the hundreds and sometimes the thousands. At Krome North, some of them were in chains; at Krome North, they were also processed and disinfected. I think that you should go on the internet, you'd probably find a picture of Haitian men, naked, being lathered in soap that was published at the time. That comes sometime in 1980 or so and you have at that time Haitians washing ashore in Florida, about 33 of them, and they washed ashore dead because they didn't know how to swim. That picture as well.

Jocelyn McCalla:

But with respect to horses, my experience with horses was in 1985 when I was organizing and had organized a protest of US policy towards Haiti and US policy towards Haitian refugees, and we were protesting on 42nd Street near what used to be the Haitian Consulate. The New York City police was using horses to corral us in, to make sure to get us off the street, and essentially moved us onto the sidewalk; and they were doing this very brutally. At the time, my ex-wife was there, [Borgnine 00:07:16], and she was pregnant with [Layla 00:07:19].

Jonathan M. Katz:

Wow.

Jocelyn McCalla:

She fell down and I had to basically rush her into a store where she could be protected. But one of my guys, who was an organizer, was trampled by one of the police horses.

Jonathan M. Katz:

It's like an old intimidation tactic.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Absolutely. The horse is huge compared to a human being, and a horse that is being used aggressively led into a crowd is nothing to sneeze at, so to speak.

Jonathan M. Katz:

My big encounter with police horses, I think, was during Occupy Wall Street, also in Times Square in 2011. And just a phalanx of police horses just charged into part of the crowd. It's terrifying. And trying to imagine what it's like for somebody who just waded across the Rio Grande and is trying to bring their lunch.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Well, the picture of that person is completely terrible. I mean, you had an entire family that are going back across the Rio Grande to get some food and they were all coming back, and this border patrol guard decided that he was going to split the family and prevent the man, the adult there, from joining the others. So it's a really sick attempt to basically send a very strong message that you're not wanted and we're going to do everything in our power to ensure that you're going to regret coming ashore.

Jonathan M. Katz:

That was the video where the border guard said that, that's why, "You come from a shit country." Yeah.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Yeah. Right. And that you're using your women to get by.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Yeah. I don't even know what he meant by that. What's that?

Jocelyn McCalla:

You know, well.

Jonathan M. Katz:

I mean, the whole family was trying to claim asylum-

Jocelyn McCalla:

Exactly. Right.

Jonathan M. Katz:

... I don't understand. How do you not travel with your family if you're trying to bring your family to safety? Can you just talk a little bit about your background, how you got involved with migrants rights?

Jocelyn McCalla:

Back when I had an opportunity to go to Haiti after living here for about seven years-

Jonathan M. Katz:

What year is this about?

Jocelyn McCalla:

1975, 1976.

Jonathan M. Katz:

So this under Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Yes. Jean-Claude Duvalier was President for [inaudible 00:10:02]. You know, I had no other intention but to have a good time back then but I found myself in the situation where I was profoundly shocked by what I saw, which was the opposite of my memories of Haiti. I was also profoundly shocked by the fact that there was so much inequality in the country. I decided upon my return that I was going to try to figure it out. I kept hearing from Haitians that nothing is ever going to work in Haiti, the country cannot be fixed, because even though we say together we're strong and that unity makes us all strong, there's never going to be any unity.

Jocelyn McCalla:

So I decided that I was going to try to demonstrate and prove to Haitians that, yes, you can achieve unity and you can do the impossible. From that point on, I started to really get deep down into Haitian history, Haitian custom, Haitian politics and so on. I became very active in student affairs and tried to organize Haitian students on campus; put together the City University of New York. From that point on, I basically went on to become associated with and founded the Association of Haitian Workers in New York, being associated with [inaudible 00:11:40], which was, I mean, not [inaudible 00:11:45], and launched a couple of other student and-

Jonathan M. Katz:

The newspaper.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Yeah. The newspaper; the weekly newspaper.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Then, throughout this period, there were a number of refugees that were being dispersed. You had Haitian refugees being detained at what is called the Brooklyn Navy Yard; a little less than 100 Haitians were being detained there. Then you had Haitians being detained in Upstate New York, which was about two to three hours away from New York City in the town called Otisville in New York. Then New York City had another area, an old military base near the Canadian border, where several hundred Haitians were being held there too.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Part of what I did was to organize, and at that time it was possible to do so, organize visits to the Haitians in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We had worked out agreements with the authorities there to provide English as a second language, classes for these guys to orient them while they were in detention. And with respect to the Haitians in Otisville, I worked primarily with a good friend of mine, Michael Hooper, who was at the time leading the National Coalition for Haitian refugees.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Michael and I worked together trying to provide legal assistance to the Haitians in Otisville. That sealed my, well, first of all, my bond with them, but also made it possible for me to, in 1985, to join the National Coalition for Haitian refugees as a Deputy Director. By that time-

Jonathan M. Katz:

A lot of America is the land of short memories. Haitians, up to 1986 were fleeing the Duvalier dictatorship, and then there was another big wave following the 1991 coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, right?

Jocelyn McCalla:

Correct. There were a couple of things in respect to the relationship of Haitians to the United States and the measures taken by the United States to prevent Haitians from reaching its shores, or to claim asylum. You have to take into account two things; one, the major influx of Haitians came in 1980 along with the [inaudible 00:14:33]. There were maybe about 15 to 18,000 Haitians who made it while the [inaudible 00:14:41] were being accompanied, so to speak, by the-

Jonathan M. Katz:

And those were people fleeing Cuba?

Jocelyn McCalla:

Yes. Those were the people fleeing Cuba; about 125,000 of them. So, [crosstalk 00:14:51]-

Jonathan M. Katz:

As depicted in the movie, Scarface.

Jocelyn McCalla:

I don't know if I've ever seen that movie.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Oh, it's a great movie, you should see it.

Jocelyn McCalla:

So the Haitians are being treated differently from the Cubans, and the Cubans had the benefit of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which essentially treated them as refugees from the get-go. And the Haitians were being subjected to what they call exclusion, as if they never entered the United States. They were excluded from entering the United States and therefore they could return them right away to Haiti. Unfortunately, they couldn't do that, so that's why they opened up Krome North to house the Haitians. So at some point you had about several thousand Haitians being held at Krome North in conditions that were quite deplorable. Krome North was located in the Everglades, as you know

Jocelyn McCalla:

When Reagan showed up and won the Presidency, I very quickly decided that he was going to implement even tougher measures against the Haitians. 1981, he did two things; one, he basically, by executive order, established the Haitian Migrant Interdiction Program under High Seas, which is [inaudible 00:16:14] Coast Guard Cutters deployed on the high seas, and essentially very close to the Haitian territory waters to prevent Haitians from getting to the United States and returning them as quickly as possible. Because on the high seas, anybody, any boats could be on the high seas and pretending that they had an agreement with Jean-Claude Duvalier that allowed them to board Haitian Flag Vessel, even though I think most of the Haitian boat people or Haitian boats that carried the boat people did not have any flag on them. You know?

Jocelyn McCalla:

That was one measure that Reagan took. And then the second measure he took, that if the Haitians did make it to shore that they would be detained at Krome North, or elsewhere throughout the United States, and then subjected to [inaudible 00:17:12] detention and pressured to sign voluntary forms of departure. So one of things that we had to do was not only organize a popular protest about this, but also provide all kinds of assistance to the Haitians. So in that context, the Haitian refugees had, led then by Father [inaudible 00:17:36], was key to mobilizing support for the Haitian refugees in South Florida.

Jonathan M. Katz:

One of the things that you're, I think, gesturing toward by talking about this in the context of the Cuban's fleeing in the Mariel Boatlift. There's also sort of a similar parallel today to the reception that Afghan refugees are getting, the people who are fleeing Kabul versus the Haitians at Del Rio. There seems to be something different about the way that Americans are welcoming people with, what is it? Lighter skin? People who are fleeing, whether it's a communist country during The Cold War or a Muslim country during the War on Terror; something that is closer to the center of American politics. It seems like there's something different. It's not totally open arms, but there's something different about the way that we, as a society in the United States, think about those people versus Haitians.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Johnathan, I think it all comes down to what is in US National interests, frankly. Back in the 80s, during the Cold War, the United States wanted to protect itself as a beacon of democracy. And obviously, Cuban's, both because they had become very powerful domestically in the United States, but because Cuba was considered to be within the [inaudible 00:19:04] sphere and a communist country, the United States wanted to project itself as the country that would welcome dissidents from communist countries.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Many of the initial Cuban refugees were middle class, upper middle class, and lighter skin. Down the road when you have the Mariel Boatlift, you have a different coloration, so to speak.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Yes.

Jocelyn McCalla:

But then you had the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 which made it possible for those Cubans to claim refugee status right away. Now this said, you do have to remember that-

Jonathan M. Katz:

That's the Dry-Foot Policy you're talking about.

Jocelyn McCalla:

No, no, no. Dry-Foot Policy is way back-

Jonathan M. Katz:

Oh, okay.

Jocelyn McCalla:

... under the Clinton Administration. I'm talking about Reagan. The Cuban Adjustment Act was essentially an act adopted in 1966, early after the Cuban Revolution, basically that's that if you are a Cuban and you make it to the United States, you are going to be given refugee status as opposed to being treated as an asylee.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Got it.

Jocelyn McCalla:

There're all kinds of distinctions being made to exclude people from getting here safely to the United States. Anyway, the Cubans were given refugee status. Then, after a year, they could become permanent residents; could apply for permanent residency. That's what the Cuban Adjustment Act did.

Jocelyn McCalla:

So, very quickly, and now you can understand if you follow the process, why Cubans became very powerful in New Jersey, in South Florida and so on, because they had all the benefits that they could have from the United States; but most importantly, in addition to legal status, the United States poured a lot of money into Cuban communities, once again, to ensure that those Cuban communities stood in opposition to what Cubans where going through in Cuba itself. That's under The Cold War.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Obviously, Haitians coming from a so-called friend, as in Duvalier may be a SOB but he's our SOB. You know? So the Haitians were being told that, "All you guys are doing is fleeing Haiti because you don't have any jobs, so you can't claim political asylum because really, frankly, there's nothing to fear under [inaudible 00:21:56]. That's the message that the United States gave to the Haitians. That's why I say, once you understand what the US National interests is, then you are going to be able to understand what it is that they're doing.

Jocelyn McCalla:

So coming back and comparing it to today's situation, the US National interest said, "We're running with our tails between our legs from Afghanistan and now probably because you've got hundreds of thousands of people whom we told that they were going to enjoy democracy in the country, and they helped out, and these guys now may be subjected to terror in Afghanistan. So we've got our National interests as we're projecting a power, a democracy, blah blah blah, now we've got to do something. But then we don't want these people crossing the border from Mexico, these Haitians crossing the border from Mexico, to have access to the due process protection; which includes access to attorneys, credible fear interviews, and so on and so forth. And the ability to join up with community people, family and so on, while awaiting your day in court.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Right. Obviously, another intersection with today and the war on terror, and also just like the news out of Washington this week, is another spot in the Caribbean known as Guantánamo.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Correct.

Jonathan M. Katz:

How did Haitians fit in the history of Guantánamo?

Jocelyn McCalla:

Haitians paved the way for the terrible camps that were set up afterwards to house in a so-called terrorist center, from Afghanistan and Iraq and so on. In 1991, September 30, 1991, to because exact, the Haitian military decided that enough of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and basically engineered a coup d'etat where they sent Aristide packing.

Jocelyn McCalla:

About a month later, Haitians started to flee in large numbers from Haiti by boat. Going back to what I said earlier, you had the US Interdiction Policy that was in place, the Coast Guard Cutter's tried to intercept as many Haitian boat people as possible. But pretty soon there were so many of them that the Coast Guard Cutter's were full of people. So they had to figure out a way to offload these people, not in the United States, but somewhere away from the United States but under US jurisdiction, and the closest place was the military base in Guantánamo in Cuba.

Jocelyn McCalla:

So they offloaded these people there. And on our side of the equation, the Haitians refugees and with our support, I mean I was running the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees at the time, with our support and the support of many others, undertook to file a lawsuit asking the court to prevent the United States from returning the Haitians to Haiti. And for the first time in so many years of trying to fight that battle, Judge Atkins down in Miami, agreed with us; he basically enjoined the United States from deporting anybody back to Haiti. The United States did not want to bring them to the mainland and had no choice but to send them to Guantánamo. So pretty soon, you had thousands of Haitians being held in Guantánamo.

Jocelyn McCalla:

I was shocked but I had been warned about it, but the first time I went to Guantánamo in the process of trying to get the Judge to stop their return, and now that you had the Haitians were being held in several camps all over which were named McCalla. I found that, that essentially was because during the Spanish American War some officer named McCalla had led the charge and planted the American flag on the hill, which had been now transformed.

Jonathan M. Katz:

He was actually, and I only know this because I just wrote a book about this; Bowman Hendry McCalla, he was actually the Commander of the US Navel Fleet in Guantánamo in 1898. And so when the Marines came ashore, they were led by Robert Huntington was the Marine Colonel. He named his camp for his Commander who didn't get off his boat, he was on the flagship, the USS Marblehead. And there's an amazing moment where the marines have been ambushed by the Spanish and Huntington asked McCalla for permission to retreat; McCalla's response is essentially, "You stay there and hold that hill; if you don't make it, I'll come and get your dead body." So that's the big, that is who McCalla Field and Camp McCalla are named for.

Jocelyn McCalla:

So he was not a gallant officer, you're saying.

Jonathan M. Katz:

No. I mean, he very gallantly sent other people to die; I guess that counts for something. But, you say that the United States had no choice but to send people to Guantánamo but of course there are always choices. The weird thing about Guantánamo, there are many weird things about Guantánamo but what's sort of the weird thing that makes all the weird things possible, is because of that 1898 war, because the United States seized it in that war, in the war for Cuba's independence, and then sort of made Cuba independent around it. It created this base that legally is not really the United States and it's also not really Cuba, you can send people there without deporting them. You're not deporting them to their home countries, you're not deporting them to Cuba, you're just sort of moving them within the United States but it's also not the United States. So they just sort of exist in this twilight zone completely outside of any country's law.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Yeah, completely. And so much for democracy and the rule of law.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Right. Although actually, there was a case, once the detainees from Afghanistan and Pakistan and the War on Terror started coming there, where the lawyers successfully argued that, while human beings did not have any rights at Guantánamo, the Iguanas had rights. You're familiar with this case?

Jocelyn McCalla:

I'm not familiar with this case but at the time that we were involved in Guantánamo, we also found out that the slot machine had far more rights than any human being.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Tell me about that.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Well, I mean, there was in the course of lititgation, we were trying to make sure that the Haitians had access to attorney's and the Justice Department at the time, which was led by Ken Starr, defending tooth and nail the notion that humans had no rights. We found out about the slot machine because they had been a suit brought against Guantánamo. I guess the slot machine operator was trying to claim some benefit.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Did you use that to extend rights to any of the detainees?

Jocelyn McCalla:

I don't recall but I think this argument made an impression on the Judges.

Jonathan M. Katz:

The case that I'm thinking of, I think it was maybe 2004, I don't remember exactly. But it was that there are some rare, there is an endangered specie of Iguana that Navel and Marine personnel on the base referred to them as the $10,000.00 Iguanas, because that what you have to pay if you run one of them over, and they're protected under US environmental law. And the lawyers basically successfully argued that if US law protects an Iguana, then people who have been detained by the United States at Guantánamo should also have some sort of rights. So I think they were establishing a right to counsel or something along those lines.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Again, you were saying everything old is new again. The Biden administration, I guess it was NBC uncovered that they put out an Ad looking for a contractor to set up a migrant detention facility at Guantánamo that speaks Haitian Creole. That was this week.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Right. The Biden administration tried to claim that it was a routine request for proposal that they had put out, that they were not going to have as many Haitians as there used to be back in the 1990s at Guantánamo and so on. But the fact that they requested Haitian Creole interrupters gave them away. To a certain extent, right now, it's in the best interests of the Biden administration to take the limelight away from the Texas border so they're basically trying to remove the Haitians from there as quickly as possible. Because so far you've had Congregational Delegation; you have a number of black American leaders who showed up to make a statement; you had some organizers and some career organizers that are following suit and so on.

Jocelyn McCalla:

So today it's said that these people remain in the [inaudible 00:31:58] is going to bring more and more attention to the very bad policies that, yes, certainly Biden did not create them but he narrated. And there again, that's why I say, look at the US National interests; it's consistent across the board. Consistent, of course, in every administration whether they're democratic or republican, regardless of what they claim they were going to do. I mean, when Clinton was campaigning back in 1992 for the Presidency, he very openly stated that he was going to make sure that Haitians had access to asylum, that they were going to be treated fairly and so on. About a week before he was sworn in as President, he changed his mind and said, "We're going to keep the same policy, we're into going to change." I was in on those meetings when I said, "Oh, damn." [crosstalk 00:32:57] I never said-

Jonathan M. Katz:

And it's-

Jocelyn McCalla:

... never said that. [crosstalk 00:33:01] such a turn around.

Jonathan M. Katz:

And it's the same thing Biden and Harrison-

Jocelyn McCalla:

Absolutely.

Jonathan M. Katz:

... they were talking about how they were going to reverse Trump and how Trump was betraying the American tradition of being a nation of immigrants. But at lest, maybe until they got caught, I don't know, the way that they were going to deal with this was just by trying to sweep it under the rug by putting them in-

Jocelyn McCalla:

Right.

Jonathan M. Katz:

... the US Imperial Twilight Zone in Guantánamo.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Correct. It's one thing to deal with a trickle of people crossing the Rio Grande, it's another thing to have thousands people of crossing it so easily, so to speak.

Jonathan M. Katz:

The White House said they were not going to send anybody from Del Rio to Guantánamo. And as you said, they're portraying this as business as usual, but is it? I mean, as far as you know, when was the last time there was a Haitian migrant at Guantánamo? There haven't been any recently.

Jocelyn McCalla:

The last time was 1994.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Yeah.

Jocelyn McCalla:

There haven't been any recently, in fact, when Guantánamo was emptied of both Cuban and Haitian refugees, then you had, Guantánamo has primarily reserved for holding alleged terrorists.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Right. So it's kind of a strange credulity to be like, "Oh, this is just a routine request for a thing that hasn't existed for 27 years."

Jocelyn McCalla:

I think there's a number of incompetent people in the Biden administration and running without their head on their shoulders.

Jonathan M. Katz:

The word Guantánamo represents something now that it didn't even, certainly in 1994; it represented something else in 1994. It is such a political live wire and of course, geographically, it is right across the windward passage from Haiti. It makes more sense, I mean, it doesn't make sense to put anybody in indefinite detention, and it certainly doesn't make sense to torture people and lock them up and throw away the key. I could see from a certain twisted way of thinking that, well, Guantánamo is right here and it's right across the Windward passage from Haiti so it makes sense to send Haitians there; but then how you can not realize, how can the Biden administration not realize how that was going to sound to Americans, who all they know about Guantánamo is this is the place where we put our enemies, this is the place where we torture people?

Jocelyn McCalla:

I think the irony in all this is that at the Senior level of Homeland Security, particularly at the domestic policy level at the White House, you now have people whom I would consider to be seasoned individuals in having dealt with Haitian refugee crisis, not from the government side of the equation but from the activist side of the equation, so they now find themselves on the government side of the equation. These are very fine people as far as I'm concerned, but the fact is that they are unfortunately either not being used wisely by the administration or that they are so many people who are in charge, who are making, how would I characterize their decisions, very bad decisions-

Jonathan M. Katz:

Yes.

Jocelyn McCalla:

... that it doesn't bode well for the administration at all. And as you say, Guantánamo is no longer associated with a refugee crisis, Guantánamo is associated as a place where the United States has quite blatantly abused its authorities, powers and so on, and you've had so many people being held indefinitely in Guantánamo. So can you imagine that you have, still, people being held indefinitely as terrorists on one side; and then on the other side, you have people who are simply seeking asylum, safe haven in the United States and so on. Or safe haven because the situation in their home country is completely bad, both from the political point of view and from the economic point of view.

Jonathan M. Katz:

But there is a slot machine.

Jocelyn McCalla:

There is also a McDonald's.

Jonathan M. Katz:

There is a McDonald's, yes. There's actually quite a few, there's an outdoor movie theater, there's an elementary school. That gives a whole town.

Jocelyn McCalla:

That's right. Yeah.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Daniel Foote, Biden's, until this week, special envoy for Haiti, he resigned over the deportations of Haitians back to Haiti. He called it an inhumane counterproductive decision to deport thousands Haitian refugees, a country where he said American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs and control of daily life. So he's talking about the crisis created by rounding up Haitians and deporting them to Haiti; we're talking about how bad a decision it would be to round people up instead and send them to Guantánamo. So what would a better solution to this particular moment be?

Jocelyn McCalla:

Well I think a better solution to this moment is pretty simple; the number of Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the United States is not that big of a number, frankly, when you compare it overall. There are procedures and processes that bind the United States to certain rules and regulations, one of them, obviously, is the asylum process itself; it's a two step process. One of which includes interviewing the Haitians seeking asylum for credible fear of persecution, which is a first step, which does not grant them asylum but other various [inaudible 00:39:22] interviewing asylum officer that this person does merit the opportunity to claim asylum in a much more deliberate [inaudible 00:39:35] being rushed and so on.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Then obviously the second step would be to schedule interviews, to make sure that they are reunited with friends and family and so on; or that they're being assisted how else by institutions that are set up for that. Back in 1982, when we finally won, a Judge ordered the release of the 3,000 or so Haitians being held at Krome North, my organization, National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, was put in charge of orchestrating the release with the assistance of a number of what they call, what is now known as a voluntary agency; that includes the Catholic Church, Lutherans, the Presbyterian Church and so on. So all these humanitarian agencies were very much ready and willing to resettle the Haitian refugees and making sure that they had attorney's that would assistant them.

Jocelyn McCalla:

In New York City I personally went to the immigration court several times a week to ensure that none of the Haitians who were scheduled for asylum hearings were going to be heard without an attorney being present. So, there is precedent that says that you can have an orderly process which satisfies both sides of the equation. Unfortunately, [inaudible 00:41:13] the mantra in the last few years in the United States has been let's get stuff on the asylum seekers, they are the enemy and we need to be a fortress in America.

Jonathan M. Katz:

I mean, the process, and I understand that it's a completely broken process. And actually I'm interested, you were talking about the difference between asylees or people who are seeking asylum and refugees. Did I pick it-

Jocelyn McCalla:

Yes.

Jonathan M. Katz:

So what is that distinction?

Jocelyn McCalla:

Well the distinction is that the refugees really are processed abroad before they even touch the soil in the United States. They are a number of agencies that are contracted by the United States to process these people and/or to assist them while they are abroad and the government sends abroad a number of asylum officers to interview these people and basically whether on that day they're going to get refugee status. When they come in as refugees, they are entitled to government assistance, resettlement efforts that includes orienting them to the United States and making sure that they are in an apartment, making sure that they've got things that will make their lives whole again when they come to the United States. They don't have to go through another step, which would be facing a Judge and figuring out whether or not you have asylum, you can be given refugee status. The asylee, the asylum seeker is in the United States and mus go through either a interview with an asylum officer or barring that, at hearing before a Judge.

Jonathan M. Katz:

So first of all, you have to be in the United States. So that means a prerequisite is that you have to, and you have to essentially have entered the United States either, I guess you could enter on a Visa and overstay it-

Jocelyn McCalla:

Oh, yeah.

Jonathan M. Katz:

... or you can enter illegally. Correct?

Jocelyn McCalla:

Correct. But regardless of how one enters the United States, one has the right under both domestic and international law to claim to seek asylum. So to a certain extent, the way that you enter the United States really doesn't matter at this stage.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Right.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Obviously, some people that are coming with a legal Visa and overstay their Visa and so on.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Then the Judge decides whether an asylum case is legitimate or not and if it's ultimately decided to be illegitimate, then the person can be deported. Correct?

Jocelyn McCalla:

Yes. It used to be that a person would have the right to appeal but the subsequent administration from Clinton down the road undermined that right.

Jonathan M. Katz:

And if the Judge decides, actually you do have a reasonable case to seek asylum, then welcome to America.

Jocelyn McCalla:

No. Well, yes, exactly. I mean, the time that you deserve asylum, yes, fine, you're an asylee and you're free.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Yeah. My great grandparents came when these laws were, the predecessors to these laws were just starting to get in place, or even before. They were quotas that they had to skirt around but that was essentially why they're here, they were fleeing violence, they were fleeing lynching in Russia. They weren't allowed to own land, they weren't allowed to go to school, and they were being killed. They were like, you know what, I think it would be better to be in the Bronx. And that's what Biden and Harris were gesturing toward when they were talking about this being a nation of immigrants, because a lot of people have family stories, like mine. But I guess if, in this moment when, if people look different, if they... I don't even know what it is. It seems to have changed.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Well, it has changed quite a bit I would say, but also it points to another failure of US policy. And the other failure is, in fact, that attempts by the United States to deliver democracy in countries where it has a realistic [inaudible 00:45:58] amount of influence. Significant [inaudible 00:46:00] influence have not worked because it has done so in accordance with its own interests rather than what is best for the people of that country.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Right.

Jocelyn McCalla:

The United States has aligned itself with dictators all over the place, and then you've created dictators in Chile and Argentina, in Guatemala and Nicaragua, among all of central America; in Haiti and so on, and in Cuba [inaudible 00:46:32] their failures.

Jonathan M. Katz:

As Daniel Foote said in his resignation letter, "We pick the winners in Haiti."

Jocelyn McCalla:

That's correct.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Yeah.

Jocelyn McCalla:

And the classic term is that, "He may be an SOB, but he's my SOB."

Jonathan M. Katz:

Exactly. Yeah. Supposedly, I tracked that down in my book as well, FDR said it about Anastasia Somoza Garcia. Interestingly, actually, that quote appears in a Time Magazine article from a couple of years after FDR had died so he wasn't available to confirm the story.

Jocelyn McCalla:

To contest it.

Jonathan M. Katz:

But interestingly, he says that it is as a Nicaraguan's would say, he blames Nicaraguan's for coming up with that statement; which is actually just perfect. It's just actually just perfect.

Jocelyn McCalla:

Yeah.

Jonathan M. Katz:

[Foreign Language 00:47:22]. Are you involved in any kind of advocacy efforts right now for the people, either on the Southern Border or for people in Haiti. Or do you have recommendations of places that people can go to look for more information about this?

Jocelyn McCalla:

Well, there are so many groups around these days that are doing stuff and that depends on what people are interested in. I will say there're several layers to the Haitian refugee crisis; one of which has to do with humanitarian relief, humanitarian assistance and underground you've got several community organizations. The most prominent right now is the Haitian Bridge Alliance, which operates out of California but is now involved as well with providing support to Haitians in Texas. There are a number of organizations in Houston, not necessarily Haitian-led but that are also involved with providing legal and maritime assistance to the Haitians.

Jocelyn McCalla:

But then part of the problem that we're facing here is that right now the strategy of the administration is to remove as quickly as possible the Haitians who are under the Del Rio bridge and placing them in different parts of the country. Personally, I don't have any idea how many people are going to end up in South Florida or New York City and so on. So, time will tell. I mean, it's also a very early stage of the process, but these people are going to need legal assistance, they're going to need community assistance with respect to... because they essentially come in with the clothes on their backs, they don't have anything else.

Jocelyn McCalla:

So, my recommendation would be for people who are interested in that and care about this stuff to keep their ears close to the ground so that should the opportunity arise for them to provide assistance that they would be able to do it. So you have groups such as the Haiti Response Coalition, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Family Action Network movement in South Florida. In New York you have a flurry of organizations and people who are now educating for better rights for Haitians. And should anybody be ready and willing to delve into the foreign policy issues, there are people who are dealing with that as well.

Jonathan M. Katz:

[music 00:50:15]. All right, well, thank you very much for this. This has been great.

Jocelyn McCalla:

All right. Take care, man.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Okay.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Thanks again to Jocelyn McCalla. Two other small notes to add; White House spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki, did say that there are no plans to move any of the migrants from Del Rio to Guantánamo. It's not clear if that was never in the works or if that was a change of plans amid the outrage that came following the revelation of NBC News' report. In addition, Jocelyn points out yet another connection between the 1990s and today; Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas has sited COVID-19 as the primary reason why it is okay in his mind to deport Haitians to Haiti. In the 1990s, some of the longest standing residents of Guantánamo were Haitians who were kept there because they had HIV.

Jonathan M. Katz:

Thanks again for listen to The Long Version. You can get this newsletter at Katz.substack.com. Stay safe out there. [music 00:51:27].