National Coalition for Haitian Rights records, 1964-2020, bulk 1982-2004

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National Coalition for Haitian Rights (United States)
The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) operated between 1982 and 2006, advocating for the rights of Haitians in the United States, Haiti, and the Caribbean. The NCHR records contain the organization's administrative records, program and project files, legal files, extensive subject files, as well as a large collection of print materials.
95 Linear Feet (219 boxes)
Materials in English, French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The NCHR records span the years 1982 to 2006 and contain the organization's administrative records, program and project files, legal files, extensive subject files, as well as a large collection of print materials.

NCHR maintained offices in New York City and in Port-au-Prince. The files in the NCHR records are largely those of the New York office, but there is also extensive overlap with the activities and files of the Haiti office. Key Haiti activities documented include human rights training, monitoring and reporting, judicial and penitentiary reform, Haitian National Police monitoring, and returning refugee monitoring and advocacy. Key US activities documented include Haitian community development, promoting and protecting rights of Haitian immigrants, promoting naturalization and citizenship, and educating Haitians on government services and citizenship.

The Administrative series documents the management and day-to-day operations of NCHR. These files include organizational planning, board of directors, development, and operational files.

The Program and Projects series contains the files produced by NCHR's major programmatic work: The Community Action Program (CAP), the Haitian-American Community Action Network (HACAN), Legal Education and Assistance Project (LEAP), and Restavek.

The Legal series contains files related to NCHR's work on broad legal cases effecting US immigration policy and human rights accountability in Haiti, as well as legal support NCHR provided to individuals, largely related to immigration and asylum in the US.

The William O'Neill Files series documents O'Neill's work for NCHR, primarily related to the United Nations mission to Haiti.

The Subject Files series is the largest series in the collection, documenting a wide variety of NCHR's work in Haiti, the US, and the Caribbean. Important sections include Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haitian migrant workers in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, "Boat People" and interdiction, elections in Haiti, Guantanamo and Krome detention centers, and police reform. The Subject Files series may overlap with many of the other series in the collection.

The Print Material series contains an extensive collection of reports, newsletters, bulletins, and other publications primarily concerning human rights and Haitians. These materials compliment the other series in this collection, particularly the Subject Files.

The Audiovisual series contains videos, photos, and audiotapes documenting NCHR's work.

Biographical / historical:

The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) was founded to advocate on behalf of Haitian citizens, immigrants, and refugees, both in the United States and regionally.

In December 1981, major civil rights organizations joined with Haitian community groups and advocates to March on Washington to protest President Reagan's new policy of interdiction at sea of Haitian refugees and indefinite detention of Haitian asylum-seekers. The march was organized under the banner of an umbrella organization called the Committee for the Defense of Haitian Refugees (CODEHR). A few months later in February 1982, these organizations decide to transform CODEHR into the National Emergency Coalition for Haitian Refugees, appoint an executive director, form a board and raise operational funds from member organizations. In addition to Haitian advocacy organizations (the Haitian Refugee Center, Haitian Fathers, Haitian Centers Council) it included major civil rights groups (NAACP, National Urban League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference), and major denominations (the US Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Episcopal Church, the National Council of Churches, Church World Service, and Lutheran Refugee Service) and human rights groups (Americas Watch, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights), in all about 44 organizations. Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua and Bayard Rustin as Chairman and Vice-Chairman, respectively, provided leadership. Susan Buchanan was the first Executive Director. Another key leader was Ira Gollobin who founded the National Lawyers Guild, headed the National Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, and litigated several key immigration and refugee cases.

Around August/September 1982, the organization eliminated "Emergency" from its title and became the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees. Around this time, Michael S. Hooper (research director for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) becomes the new Executive Director. Jocelyn "Juny" McCalla succeeded him in 1988.

By 1994, after President Clinton's historic decision to deploy 20,000 troops to Haiti to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to elected office, NCHR had expanded its scope of work from refugee rights to civil and international human rights, taking advantage of a paradigm shift in US-Haiti relations that put the US more on the side of democracy in Haiti. To reflect this the organization changed its name to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights in 1995.

From 1995 until 2006, when the organization shut down, NCHR focused on two key goals. First, it worked to equip Haiti with its own professional human rights group, by grooming the field office, which it had established in Port-au-Prince in 1992 to become an independent national group with field offices throughout Haiti. Second, NCHR set its sights on strengthening the capacity of Haitians to exercise greater political power and influence over US policy towards Haitian communities and Haiti. In 2004, NCHR-Haiti became the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights.

During its twenty-four years of operation, NCHR tackled a wide variety of issues faced by Haitians in Haiti and the US and the Caribbean. These included US immigration policy, treatment of Haitian immigrants (including such categories as "boat people", migrant workers, and refugees), documenting conditions at US detention centers such as Guantanamo and Krome, HIV/AIDS in the Haitian community, human rights abuses and accountability in Haiti under the Duvalier regime and post-Duvalier governments, police corruption and abuse both in Haiti and in New York City, and electoral and judicial reform in Haiti. [Source: NCHR records, Jocelyn "Juny" McCalla]

Special Note On Immigration and Legalization in the NCHR records

Immigration and legalization are a common thread throughout NCHR's existence and in its historical records.

In June 1982 Judge Eugene Spellman ruled against the Reagan Administration's broad Haitian detention order, freeing the 3,500 Haitian held in detention centers throughout the country. Spellman addressed the Administration's concern that, once released, Haitian asylum-seekers would just disappear into the ether by giving NCHR the responsibility to a) report to the court on a regular basis whether the Immigration courts complied with the ruling (hearings could not proceed if the Haitian asylum-seekers did not have legal representation) and b) secure legal assistance nationwide for the Haitian asylum-seekers. NCHR was uniquely situated to do so, because its membership consisted of voluntary agencies (USCC, LIRS, CWS, etc.) that agreed to resettle the released asylum-seekers. Accordingly, NCHR worked with these groups as well as law firms and legal groups (ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, etc.) to coordinate legal representation efforts, train pro bono lawyers in the art of Haitian asylum issues and representation, and communicate with immigration courts around the country on hearings. Spellman's 1982 ruling was crucial to NCHR's evolution and led to NCHR eliminating "emergency" from its name.

The aforementioned programs and activities lasted until 1986. In that year, Congress passed and President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The legislation had four provisions, one of which was called Cuban-Haitian Adjustment (CHA), which was in fact more Haitian than Cuban. This was a far-reaching provision that was adopted primarily thanks to NCHR. CHA granted Haitian asylum-seekers in the USA since before January 1, 1982 permanent residence (green cards) and made the status retroactive to January 1, 1982. In other words, any Haitian who qualified for this provision could obtain a green card in 1987, and immediately fulfill the 5-year residency requirement that made him or her eligible for US citizenship through naturalization. An estimated 40,000 Haitian refugees benefited from the legislation. At this point NCHR switched to training lawyers and advocates on the law's provisions and successful representation.

While these laws and reforms were being enacted in the US, Haitians kept fleeing the despotic regimes that succeeded the Duvaliers. Thus NCHR's investigating and reporting on human rights conditions, educating the US Congress and the Administration in order to influence policymaking and lawmaking continued apace. In 1988, NCHR extended human rights monitoring to the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, and initiated a monthly bulletin, Haiti Insight. The human rights reporting was key to providing substantive support to Haitian asylum claims. Over time, the bulletin became required reading for US asylum adjudicators. In 1992, the Haitian military took power through a coup d'état and exiled President Aristide. Shortly afterwards, thousands of Haitians took to the high seas and were intercepted by the US Coast Guard and warehoused in the US naval military base at Guantanamo, Cuba (GTMO). Once again, NCHR was at the forefront of advocating for Haitian asylum-seekers. The official records of the litigation undertaken on behalf of the Haitian refugees will not direct the public's attention to NCHR's key role in this effort, but it was substantial. For strategic and practical reasons, the groups involved in the litigation chose a member organization -- the Haitian Centers Council – as the lead organization because it was headquartered in Brooklyn where NCHR and the Yale Law School filed suit on behalf of the Haitians held in GTMO. By 1994, NCHR had secured the release of about 11,000 Haitian refugees and the right for them to seek asylum on U.S. soil. About 3 years later, NCHR secured legislation granting them and thousands of others (an estimated 50,000) legal permanent residence (green cards). NCHR challenged the U.S. Interdiction-at-sea policy all the way to the Supreme Court, which unfortunately decided that the President had quasi-absolute powers outside of U.S. borders.

It is important to note that for purposes of immigration enforcement, the U.S. border steadily receded from 12 miles to 3 miles (under Reagan), from 3 miles to sure footing on land (under Clinton), whereas a slot machine or a detainee in GTMO is not in US territory unless in the 12-mile limit. Note also that Customs and Border Patrol has a 100-mile wide authority to patrol on each side of the border, i.e. for purposes of immigration enforcement. All of New York City (its 8 million + residents) is within the border.

In short, NCHR's legalization and immigration efforts, activities, and programs may have shifted focus and administrative and programmatic location over the years, but they always were part of NCHR's DNA. [source: Jocelyn "Juny" McCalla]

Acquisition information:
Acquired by the Rubenstein Library as a gift in April 2012 (2012-0058).
Processing information:

Processed by Patrick Stawski, Clare Callahan, Florian Craan, Marie Veyrier, and Caitlin Martell September 2013 through December 2016

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Collection is open for research with the following exceptions. The Audio-Visual Series contains fragile audiovisual/photographic formats that may need to be reformatted before use. Also, the Legal Series, Individual Cases Subseries, contains potentially sensitive information. Contact Research Services for Access to these series.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], The National Coalition for Haitian Rights Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.