Primary Source Documents: Papers from the White House, NSC and DOJ
When Craig Trebilcock and other Golden Venture lawyers went after the US in court, they opened a fascinating window into policy making at the highest levels.
The government was obliged to turn over documents produced by and for the most powerful members of the Clinton administration, from Bill Clinton on down. They included officials from the National Security Council, the domestic policy staff, the Department of Justice, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Government officials were also called in to give depositions on the case.
The advocates lost. However, during the years that the battle was fought in court, the detainees were protected from deportation.
The litigation produced a vast pile of documents. Included here is a tiny sample of interesting government documents from the case. Further down the page, two documents that prove that the government knew well ahead of the groudning that the Golden Venture was steaming toward the US. Click on the links to see the full documents as pdf files:
White House meeting on alien smuggling. One June 10, 1993 -- four days after the Golden Venture ran aground -- high level government officials met with President Clinton to formulate the government’s response. The agenda for the meeting shows the origins of the get-tough policies of excluding and detaining undocumented immigrants.
Presidential Decision Directive 9. Following the June 10 meeting, the government’s new policy was spelled out in PDD-9. The document states: “we will also attempt to ensure that smuggled aliens detained as a result of U.S. enforcement actions, whether in the U.S. or abroad, are fairly assessed and/or screened by appropriate authorities to ensure protection of bonafide refugees.” Critics of the new policies would dismiss this expression of concern for human rights as a sham.
Memo to VP Al Gore. A month after the Golden Venture, the White House stepped up its support for tougher immigration legislation. The VP played a lead role in this effort. This background memo conspicuously drops the reference to protecting human rights in PDD-9.
The political influence suit. The case was formally known as Yang You Yi, et al v. Janet Reno, et al. These are the first eight pages of the advocates’ suit, broadly outlining their case against the US government.
Memo from Executive Office of Immigration Review counsel Gerald Hurwitz to the DOJ. Two days after the Golden Venture ran aground, Hurwitz outlined in great detail a plan for the “expeditious and efficient” handling of the Golden Venture passenger asylum claims.
The Immigration Emergency. This DOJ document reflects the sense of urgency that prevailed in the Clinton administration in the months leading up to the June 6 grounding of the Golden Venture. Advocates cited this document as proof that given the state of alarm, the Golden Venture passengers were doomed to unfair treatment.
Chinese Family Planning and U.S. Asylum Law. A once-classified draft memo from NSC staffer Eric Schwartz, this document offers a thoughtful background and cogent analysis of policy options. The issue of forced abortions and sterilizations in China is an important aspect of the Golden Venture story and relates to the broader question of human rights violations in China.
Memo directing parole of detainees. Indicating that parole is only “’until completion of proceedings’” the memo created the situation that still exists 12 years later: the former detainees do not have full legal status.
A preventable tragedy
The two documents below prove conclusively that the US government knew about the Golden Venture months before the freighter ran aground off New York City.
The Coast Guard could have easily boarded the ship and rescued the passengers, but instead the freighter was allowed to continue on its journey, leading to ten deaths in the icy surf near Breezy Point.
Why did the Coast Guard remain aloof? Other documents suggest that as the freighter neared New York harbor, surveillance was stepped up to prevent the freighter from passing under the Verrazano Bridge. Was it incompetence? Or may a conspiracy theory of some sort be in order here?
Either way, it’s puzzling that there was no public outrage about the very preventable deaths of 10 Chinese immigrants from the Golden Venture. Had they been American or European, there may have been a very different sort of reaction.
South China Morning Post. April 4, 1993. More than two months before the grounding, a major international newspaper reported that the ship was headed for the US and provided a detailed account of the chaotic series of events surrounding the stranding and pick up of Chinese immigrants in Mombasa, Kenya.
Coast Guard cable. A Coast Guard aircraft spotted the Golden Venture lying off Nantucket on June 4, 1993. Yet the freighter was allowed to continue. Why?