On September 30, 1991, Haitian President Aristide was overthrown in a military coup and thousands of Haitians attempted to flee the country in boats headed for the U.S. The Haitian refugees were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard and detained at the U.S. Coast Guard Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or on Coast Guard vessels.
On November 19, 1991, the Haitian Refugee Center and individual Haitian refugees, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The Haitian Refugee Center alleged it was being denied access to Haitian refugees in violation of its First Amendment right of association and right to counsel. The named Haitian plaintiffs alleged violations of their right of non-refoulement which arose under Article 33 of the 1967 United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 555(b), 557, 558 and 702.
Upon plaintiffs' application, the District Court issued a TRO which restrained the government "from continuing to repatriate Haitians currently on board U.S.-flagged vessels and Haitians currently being held on land under United States' control and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." Haitian Refugee Center, Inc. v. Baker, 1991 WL 330942 (S.D.Fla. Nov 19, 1991). On December 3, 1991, the District Court issued a preliminary injunction, enjoining the defendants from "forcefully repatriating the individual plaintiffs or class members in their custody either until the merits of the underlying action are resolved or until defendants implement and follow procedural safeguards adequate to ensure that Haitians with bona fide claims of political persecution are not forcefully returned to Haiti." Haitian Refugee Center, Inc. v. Baker, 789 F.Supp. 1552 (S.D.Fla. 1991). The case was certified as a class action, with the class defined as "all Haitian emigres who were intercepted by the United States Coast Guard pursuant to a "program of interdiction" that permits interception and repatriation of undocumented aliens." The government appealed.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved the injunction as overbroad and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the individual Haitians' Article 33 claim. Haitian Refugee Center v. Baker, 949 F.2d 1109 (11th Cir.1991). Rehearing was denied by Haitian Refugee Center, Inc. v. Baker, 954 F.2d 731 (11th Cir. 1992) and certiorari was denied by Haitian Refugee Center, Inc. v. Baker, 502 U.S. 1122, 112 S.Ct. 1245, 117 L.Ed.2d 477 (1992).
On remand, the District Court issued a second TRO on the plaintiffs' claim that defendants failed to follow the procedural requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 555(b). Haitian Refugee Center, Inc. v. Baker, 1991 WL 330944 (S.D.Fla. Dec 18, 1991). The government appealed and the TRO was stayed pending appeal. Haitian Refuge Center v. Baker, 950 F.2d 685 (11th Cir.1991). After entering the TRO, the District Court entered a preliminary injunction ordering the government to grant plaintiffs' lawyers access to the interdicted class members. Haitian Refugee Center, Inc. v. Baker, 789 F.Supp. 1579 (S.D.Fla.). A second preliminary injunction was issued on plaintiffs' APA claim. Haitian Refugee Center, Inc. v. Baker, 1991 WL 330943 (S.D.Fla. Dec 23, 1991). The government appealed.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed all of the District Court orders, and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim. The Court of Appeals held that the Haitians who had been interdicted on the high seas never reached the U.S. and had no rights under the Administrative Procedure Act. The Court also found that the Haitian Refugee Center had no First Amendment right to access to the Haitian aliens. Haitian Refugee Center v. Baker, 953 F.2d 1498 (11th Cir.1992). Certiorari was denied. Haitian Refugee Center v. Baker, 502 U.S. 1122, 112 S.Ct. 1245, 117 L.Ed.2d 477 (1992).
Note that a similar case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. See Haitian Centers Council, Inc. v. McNary, IM-NY-6 of this collection.Dan Dalton - 01/03/2008