catastrophic earthquake that has devastated Haiti has sparked questions
about immigration and deportation. In addition to the Obama
administration's decisive response to the disaster with aid, it has
suspended deportations to Haiti and is considering granting temporary
protected status to Haitians living in the United States without proper
Already, too, the government is considering options in the event of increased illegal immigration from the stricken country.
"Guantanamo is going to be an enormously valuable asset as we go through this," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters
on Thursday. "[Guantanamo] is in the vicinity. ... So we're identifying
all of the assets in the region that we can use in order to stage
Not only can
the military at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station and at the associated
terrorist detention center GITMO provide logistical support as part of
the assistance efforts, but the facility is also a possible location to
house a post-earthquake wave of attempted immigration.
Guantanamo Bay Naval Station there's a Homeland Security detention
center waiting for Haitians and other Caribbean islanders who are
caught while seeking to reach U.S. shores. On this parcel of Cuba
occupied by the U.S. Navy and infamous for the GITMO terrorist
detention center, the Migrant Operations Center (MOC) is intended for
immigrants caught at sea without U.S. entry documents.
The U.S. military has operated a base surrounding Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for more than a century.
But as Tom Head, a civil rights blogger with About.com,
points out, "It has only been over the past several decades that it has
become notorious for the detention of foreign nationals."
According to "The Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility: A Short History,"
this center functioned as the federal government's outlying detention
center in the 1990s for immigrants who had attempted illegal entry by
way of the Caribbean:
- 1991-1993: Camp Bulkeley Used to Detain HIV-Positive Haitian Refugees.
Human rights activists were outraged when 310 HIV-positive Haitian
immigrants were segregated from other refugees following the 1991
Haitian coup and imprisoned in Camp Bulkeley at Guantanamo, a crowded
and unsanitary detention camp. They were finally released in 1993 after
an international campaign.
- 1996: Operation Marathon Focuses on Undocumented Chinese Migrants.
Guantanamo's detention facilities have historically been used to house
refugees and other undocumented immigrants captured on the high seas.
Under 1996's Operation Marathon anti-smuggling initiative, Guantanamo
detention facilities were used to house an estimated 120 Chinese
migrants who had attempted to illegally migrate to the United States by
- 1997: Operation Present Haven Focuses on Undocumented Guyanese Migrants.
Guantanamo was also used to house Guyanese migrants who had attempted to reach the United States by sea.
caused by the recent earthquake may spur many Haitians to attempt a
highly risky sea crossing to escape the misery of their country. At the
U.S. naval facility and prison complex at Guantanamo Bay, the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a near-empty detention
center—called the Migration Operations Center (MOC)—that could serve as
the center for U.S. detention and processing efforts in the Caribbean.
In the past,
this center has served has a holding facility to prevent unwanted
Haitian and other migrants from entering the United States. Today,
under a contract with DHS it is operated by Geo Group, a private prison
corporation that relies on federal government detention/prison
contracts for about 40% of its revenues.
In 2003, with
the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, MOC was upgraded
and its operation transferred from the department's own Immigration and
Customs Enforcement to GEO Group, the country's second largest private
prison firm. In part because of the special international standing of
the Guantanamo Bay military base, which one official called "the legal
equivalent to outer space," the State Department is cosponsor of the
According to GEO,
it manages and operates a detention center with 130 beds but which "can
house up to 500 detainees in the event of a surge." According to the
contract, "This dynamic population may consist of single adult males
and females, unaccompanied male and female juveniles, and family groups
of various nationalities and security levels."
Under the terms
of the contract, which was renewed for a five-year period in November
2006, "GEO is responsible for providing all staff, supplies, and
equipment to manage and operate the center."
contract was arranged, according to GEO, "at the emergency request of
ICE in 2003" and offered the company "a unique opportunity." Since
responding positively to that emergency request, GEO says that it has
"been successfully working with ICE in this unique environment and has
developed professional working relationships with all of the federal
agencies involved in the operation of the MOC."
There are close
working relations between the controversial GITMO detention center,
which President Obama has promised to close, and MOC, if for no other
reasons than their proximity and isolation. Phone calls to MOC are
passed through the Naval Station's switchboard, and GEO seeks staff
from the military and support personnel at GITMO.
to the DHS initiative that put GEO Group in charge of the MOC in
Guatanamo Bay is the DHS $385 million contract in 2006 with a KBR,
subsidiary of Halliburton, to build temporary immigration detention
centers in the event of immigration emergencies.
contract with KBR represented an extension of a 2000 contract, under
which KBR would build detention centers with a 5,000 detainee capacity
for the Army Corps of Engineers.
According to an
ICE spokesperson Jamie Zuieback, KBR would build the centers only in an
emergency, like the one when thousands of Cubans floated on rafts to
the United States. She emphasized that the centers might never be built
if such an emergency did not arise.
"It's the type of contract that could be used in some kind of mass migration," Ms. Zuieback said.Americas Program