FOX News reported just three days after the earthquake on the possibility of a wave of Haitians trying to make the dangerous trip to the US:
Among the options being considered is use of part of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.While Guantanamo is famous now for being the detention center for "enemy combatants", it was previously used primarily for the detention of immigrants caught at sea. One of the most famous episodes was after the coup that ousted Aristide in 1991. Fearing political persecution at least 40,000 Haitians fled the country. The New York Times reported in 1992 that:
The Migrant Operations Center, as it is called, is a "facility at which undocumented aliens seeking to enter the United States who are interdicted at sea or otherwise encountered in the Caribbean region are provided custody, care, safety, transportation and other needs pending a determination of immigrant status and transfer," according to government documents.
In its current state, the Migrant Operations Center can house about 130 people, but "in the event of a sudden surge in the migrant population" the facility can be modified to house another 400 people.
"Guantanamo is going to be an enormously valuable asset as we go through this," State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Thursday, speaking generally about U.S. efforts to help Haiti. "[Guantanamo] is in the vicinity. ... So we're identifying all of the assets in the region that we can use in order to stage operations."
Of the 36,985 Haitians who have been processed at the Guantanamo Bay base since last November, 10,736 refugees have been approved to come to the United States to seek permanent asylum, said a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Duke Austin. The remainder have been or will be sent back to Haiti, he said.Immigration law barred those with HIV from entering the US, despite their escape from political persecution. This left hundreds of HIV positive Haitians -and their families- stuck in a special camp in Guantanamo. It was not until 20 months later when a Federal judge ruled the detentions illegal that they were allowed to leave. The New York Times reported in June of 1993:
Though eligible for political asylum, most of the 158 Haitians at the base in Cuba have been barred from entering the country because they are infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. They have been held for nearly 20 months behind wire fences and in shanty homes, with inadequate medical care or legal representation.The article continues, focusing on the judge's decision:
The fate of the Haitians has been an issue for President Clinton since he took office. On the campaign trail, Mr. Clinton promised repeatedly to close the camp. But since taking office, he has let stand a Bush Administration policy to keep the H.I.V.-positive Haitians on Guantanamo.
In his 53-page decision, Judge Johnson ruled that it is illegal to detain refugees indefinitely and that both the Bush and Clinton administrations had unfairly applied its exclusion of H.I.V.-positive immigrants to the Haitians at Guantanamo. And he said that the refugees were to be released "to anywhere but Haiti," which means they will likely be brought to the United States.In 2003 the Migrant Operation Center was transferred to private hands, with the GEO Group, securing the contract.
"Although the defendants euphemistically refer to its Guantanamo operation as a 'humanitarian camp,' the facts disclose that it is nothing more than an H.I.V. prison camp presenting potential public health risks to the Haitians held there," Judge Johnson wrote. "The Haitians' plight is a tragedy of immense proportion, and their continued detainment is totally unacceptable to this court."
Although the wave of immigration that some expected in the aftermath of the earthquake has not materialized, there have been recent reports of the interception of Haitians trying to make the dangerous journey to the US or the Bahamas. If the new contract for GEO Group is to bolster their facilities at Guantanamo, it makes explicit the US' plan for using Guantanamo to handle increased immigration; however given the group's checkered past, this should be an immediate cause for concern. If the contract is not simply to bolster their facilities, or if Guantanamo is not being used to house Haitians intercepted at sea, it raises the question of what, exactly, the $260,589 contract is for.