A cadre of dedicated Yalies takes on the U.S. government in the case of Haitian refugees in the early 1990s.
Before Guantánamo Naval Base in Cuba made headlines for its detention of suspected terrorists, it served as temporary home to some 12,000 Haitian refugees fleeing the sadistic military regime that in 1991 ousted newly elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When a group of Yale law students learned that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was returning nearly all the refugees to Haiti, where they would face persecution—and perhaps even death—the students decided to sue the government. Led by professors Harold H. Koh and Michael Ratner, the students put aside class, work and graduation preparations to pursue the case, conducting all-night research sessions and traveling to interview the detainees. They argued all the way to the Supreme Court, focusing worldwide attention on the plight of some 300 HIV-positive refugees incarcerated in Guantánamo’s squalid detention center. Both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton (who had decried his predecessor’s Haitian policy during the presidential campaign) were content to let the detainees languish indefinitely. Aided by the high-powered firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, who worked pro bono, the students eventually won the Haitians’ release and brought them to the U.S. Journalist Goldstein, himself a Yale Law grad, manages to bring passion and drama to a story that consists primarily of legal filings. It helps that he focuses on the wrenching story of one activist refugee who was forced to leave her family behind in Haiti. The dozen or so students are less clearly drawn, but no less heroic for risking their careers.
A revealing look at the legal system, a compelling human rights story and an inspirational tale of dedicated people who refused to accept the status quo.