Jean v. Nelson

Decision Date12 April 1983
Docket NumberNo. 82-5772,82-5772
Citation711 F.2d 1455
PartiesMarie Lucie JEAN, et al., Plaintiffs, Lucien Louis, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, Cross-Appellants, State of Florida, Intervenor-Appellant, v. Alan C. NELSON, et al., Defendants-Appellants, Cross-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Stanley Marcus, U.S. Atty., Miami, Fla., Leon B. Kellner, Asst. U.S. Atty., Robert L. Bombaugh, Atty. Gen., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Associate Atty. Gen., Washington, D.C., for defendants-appellants, cross-appellees.

Kurzban & Kurzban, Ira J. Kurzban, Nat'l Emerg. Civ. Lib. Foundation and Haitian Refugee Center, Inc., Miami, Fla., Mary Gilmore and Terrence A. Corrigan, New York City, Michael J. Rosen, Miami, Fla., Christopher Keith Hall, New York City, for plaintiffs-appellees, cross-appellants.

Vera Weisz, Haitian Refugee Center, Inc., Miami, Fla., Bruce J. Winick, ACLU Foundation of Fla., Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., Irwin P. Stotzky, Univ. of Miami, School of Law, Coral Gables, Fla., for Haitian Refugee Center.

Kendrick Tucker, Deputy Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, Fla., for intervenor-appellant State of Fla.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Before KRAVITCH, HATCHETT and CLARK, Circuit Judges.

KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge:

This suit is before us on appeal from an order releasing over one thousand Haitian immigrants held in detention by the United States Government. The government detained the Haitians as part of a stringent immigration program that followed on the heels of the massive Cuban migration during the Mariel boatlift of 1980. Pursuant to the new policy Haitians were detained in camps or prisons pending a final determination of their right to remain in this country, a process that took months, or in some cases over a year.

This is a complicated case. The issues presented are complex. And, it is an involved case. The record on appeal is voluminous. It is a delicate matter as well: the court below noted the extensive publicity this case has received, and the strong feelings with which it is regarded by either side.

The judgment of the court below ordered the release of the detained Haitian immigrants. The district court's opinion stressed one basic principle: although the Executive, in concert with Congress, has wide authority to act to protect our borders, the governing branches must nonetheless act within the letter of the law. Despite our differences with the district court as to many of the individual bases for decision, as well as some particulars of the relief afforded, we concur in the judgment freeing the Haitians, and in that underlying rationale.

I. The Predicate
A. The Procedural Predicate

During the week of June 1-5, 1981 the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") held mass "exclusion" hearings for Haitian immigrants to determine whether they were admissible to this country, or should be deported. Many hearings were held behind locked doors in courtrooms from which counsel attempting to inform the Haitians of their rights were barred. Overwhelming evidence established that Creole translators were so inadequate that Haitians could not understand the proceedings nor be informed of their rights. Pursuant to these faulty hearings many Haitians were adjudged excludable from this country, and were subject to deportation.1

Although exclusion and the procedures by which exclusion occurred provided initial impetus for this action the issue of detention too was significant. Pursuant to Administration policy many Haitian immigrants were held in detention camps prior to a determination of excludability. Because of procedural difficulties, and the unwillingness of the government to parole those incarcerated, detention frequently continued for months; in some cases for over a year. In response to this situation the Haitian Refugee Center ("HRC") filed this cause in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Originally filed as a petition for habeas corpus on behalf of those unlawfully excluded from this country, the complaint was subsequently amended to request class certification allowing named plaintiffs to sue on behalf of themselves and a class of Haitian refugees similarly situated. Alleging seven grounds for relief, inter alia discrimination in enforcement of Administration policy and rulemaking in contravention of required administrative procedure, plaintiffs sought declaratory relief as to the validity of their claims as well as an injunction against enforcement of the Administration's policy mandating such proceedings and detention. Plaintiffs also sought a stay of deportation for any Haitian excluded pursuant to the challenged procedures and a stay of exclusion hearings for Haitians unrepresented by counsel. Hearings commenced shortly thereafter on preliminary injunctive relief.

On September 30, 1981, in a strongly worded opinion, the district court certified the class. The court found the INS was playing "a human shell game" with the Haitians, moving them around the country to desolate areas without available counsel or communication facilities. The court further found faulty the INS proceedings whereby eleven Haitians were deported; these proceedings included mass hearings, behind closed doors, without counsel or adequate translators. Louis v. Meissner, 530 F.Supp. 924, 926-28 (S.D.Fla.1981) ["Louis I" ]. The court therefore enjoined deportation of, and further exclusion hearings for, class members unrepresented by counsel. The government chose not to appeal the preliminary injunction and requested an immediate trial.

On February 24, 1982, the district court dismissed four of the seven claims in the original complaint on jurisdictional grounds. 2 Louis v. Meissner, 532 F.Supp. 881 (S.D.Fla.1982) ["Louis II "]. That dismissal, which eliminated many procedural issues, brought to the fore the question of detention. On March 15, 1982, a six-week trial commenced. Three general issues were tried: a claim that the Administration implemented its new immigration policy in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act ["APA"] by failing to engage in notice and comment rulemaking; a claim that the immigration policy was enforced against the Haitians in a discriminatory manner, contravening their fifth amendment equal protection rights, and an issue of first amendment access rights among the Haitians, their attorneys, family and friends.

In a memorandum opinion dated June 18, 1982, Louis v. Nelson, 544 F.Supp. 973 (S.D.Fla.) [hereinafter "Louis III "], Judge Spellman determined that the government had violated the Administrative Procedure Act; consequently he held the detention policy "null and void" and reinstated a prior policy of parole, one he determined "is in full force and effect." Pursuant to the prior policy the court ordered the release of all class members. It further held the plaintiffs had failed to prove their discrimination claim. Finally, the court declined to rule on the access claim, ostensibly because the issue was mooted by the release order.

Following the government's submission of a notice of intention to engage in rulemaking the district court granted a partial stay, the effect of which was to permit detention of aliens who arrived between the date the final judgment was entered and the date the new rules for detention were promulgated. The government appealed the judgment as to rulemaking; plaintiffs cross-appealed the discrimination and access issues, as well as the jurisdictional dismissal of the procedural claims. On July 13, 1982, this court denied the government's emergency motion for a stay pending appeal.

B. The Factual Predicate

Haitians first began to appear on our shores in numbers in the early 1970's. Often travelling in small boats barely suited to ocean travel, the Haitians came to America seeking relief from economic oppression, as the government would have it, or to escape political oppression, as plaintiffs assert. By 1981, when the government action giving rise to this lawsuit began, the number of undocumented Haitians living in the south Florida area was estimated at thirty-five thousand. 3

Although the decade-long influx of undocumented immigrants from the Caribbean basin to south Florida presaged the end of the Administration's permissive attitude toward illegal immigration, an influx in which the Haitians participated, it was the arrival of Cuban immigrants that had the greatest impact. In the spring of 1980 the Mariel boatlift or "Freedom Flotilla" brought some 125,000 Cubans to our shores in a number of weeks. Louis III, 544 F.Supp. at 978. In response to this sudden, massive immigration, President Carter appointed a Select Committee on Immigration to examine the country's immigration woes. That committee issued a report in February, 1981 finding that an "immigration crisis" existed in this country. Louis III at 979. The "crisis" passed unresolved to the new Administration and in March 1981 President Reagan appointed a special task force to consider solutions. This body included the Secretaries of State, Defense, Transportation, Labor, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Id.

The task force examined several immigration problems, one of which was the number of undocumented aliens unlawfully in this country. Figures gathered by the task force indicated some three to six million aliens had settled here in violation of immigration laws. This massive body, living in constant fear of deportation, oftentimes was exploited by unscrupulous employers. Rather than attempt to apprehend these millions of immigrants, however, the Administration determined to offer a general amnesty to undocumented aliens in this country since 1978. Acting upon a task force recommendation the Administration proposed a special immigrant status to these illegal aliens. See 40 Cong. Q. Weekly Report 3097-98 (1...

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