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The White House, President George W. Bush

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 30, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

[ ... ]

Q Ari, I've got a couple of questions here. With all the concerns about homeland security, border security, coastal security, how was it that the Haitian migrants got so close to the United States before they were detected?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Coast Guard determined that the vessel did not present a threat to the homeland security of the United States. As a result of the Coast Guard's operations, they were aware of the vessel shortly before it's arrival and they were able to make a determination about the vessel. And we have seen incidents like this before where a vessel comes toward our shores teeming with people, and the Coast Guard's concern at this point was that it not capsize and endanger the lives of those who were on it.

Q Can you tell us --

MR. FLEISCHER: But they were able to make the determination that it represented an immigration case.

Q Can you tell us how far out that determination was made? And I have one more question.

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have the longitude and the latitude. I think you may be able to get that from the Coast Guard. I don't have it.

[ ... ]

Q Does the President think it's fair that, when Haitians come ashore they're deported, and when Cubans come ashore they can stay in the States?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, the President's job is to enforce the laws of the land, and the laws will be enforced. In this case, what is happening now is these Haitians are being treated fairly, they're being treated appropriately, they're being treated humanely. And the Immigration and Naturalization Service will apply the law and make the proper judgments.

Q Does he support that law? Will he make any effort to change it, or does he support the law?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President knows that his administration will enforce the laws. I'm not aware of any changes that are being proposed.

Q Jeb Bush also said that he had been reassured by the White House that the Haitians were being processed speedily. Is that true, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to the Immigration and Naturalization Service about their exact timing of it. That would not surprise me. As I mentioned, these are types of things that have happened before in our country, and the INS -- it's job is to process these cases.

[ ... ]

Q Ari, like it or not, this Haitian situation comes at a time when it is ripe for a lot of people to try to make political points out of it. Can the President and those closest to him maintain a hands-off policy, especially when there may be some gray areas for asylum?

MR. FLEISCHER: If the question is, because it's six days before an election, should a President start to interfere with the actual workings of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the answer is no. Whether it's one day, six days or 364 days before an election, the laws of our land are the laws of the land, and they should be enforced by the proper authorities.

Q Again, there may be some gray areas of asylum here, from what I understand, not being down there, that may require higher up decisions.

MR. FLEISCHER: These issues will all get reviewed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as is their purview.

[ ... ]

END 1:14 P.M. EST