August 20, 2004

What is it with the Department of Homeland Security, anyway?

Why does it spend so much time and energy exploring new ways to make life miserable for people who've already had their share of misery?

Take this story, for example: The Caribbean nation of Montserrat has had volcano problems for almost 10 years now. Since 1995, eruptions of the Soufrière Hills volcano have made about two-thirds of the island uninhabitable.

soufriere_hills.jpg

As a result of the volcanic activity, thousands of Montserrat's people have left the island as refugees, with most of them going to the UK. The US took some of the Montserratian refugees as well, giving them 'temporary protected status' that allows them to live and work in the US until the temporary danger subsides. Given that the activity of the Soufrière Hills volcano continues to be intense, you wouldn't think that the Montserratian refugees wouldn't have to worry about getting kicked out of their temporary home, would you?

Bzzzzt! Wrong!

Citing the fact that the volcano isn't likely to calm down any time in the near future, Homeland Security has ordered the 292 Montserratian refugees to leave the US by January, 2005. The logic of this decision is so twisted as to almost beggar description. Basically, Homeland Security says that because the danger in Montserrat is permanent, not temporary, the refugees can no longer stay:

"[It] no longer constitutes a temporary disruption of living conditions that temporarily prevents Montserrat from adequately handling the return of its nationals." [...]

"The fact is, temporary protected status is not meant to be a permanent solution," said William Strassberger, a spokesman for the government agency.

As an example, he points to the fact that Bosnians returned home after the war in the former Yugoslavia, and other foreign nationals have always returned after the crisis in question abated.

So the best that Homeland Security can offer in defense of its decision is to point to places where refugees can return home safely — something that isn't the case with a return to Montserrat. You have to wonder what those Homeland Security folks smoke before they make decisions like this, don't you?

Naturally, the Montserratian refugees are not anxious to go home to face the same dangers that they fled in the first place, and they've started a campaign to get Homeland Security's decision reversed or overruled. Their cause has been taken up by US Representative Major Owens, who has introduced a bill that would allow the refugees to stay in the US. Owens calls the Homeland Security action "a blatant disregard for human life":

There is a real anti-immigrant sentiment that governs the Bush administration when it comes to particular areas of the world and the Montserrat case is just one example.... I cannot believe America does not have a heart big enough to accommodate 292 people.

So far, Owens' bill has 44 co-sponsors, but it is far from certain that the legislation will go anywhere in the Republican-run Congress. Meanwhile, the volcano continues to erupt and the refugees wait.

Posted by Magpie at August 20, 2004 09:54 AM | International | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |
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