Cuba deal brings deportation questions
Renewing ties with Cuba raises questions about deportees
By Maria SacchettiGLOBE STAFF DECEMBER 26, 2014
The historic renewal of diplomatic relations between the United States
and Cuba has raised a thorny new question about the fate of tens of
thousands of Cubans the United States wants to deport, some of whom have
spent years in jail.
According to the latest figures, 34,525 Cubans have been ordered
deported — and at least 110 are being detained, including two men who
have been held in federal immigration detention for roughly two decades.
Federal immigration officials said it is too soon to say whether
full-scale deportations would resume to the Caribbean island under the
new relationship. Since the two nations severed ties in 1961, the United
States has welcomed Cubans who managed to get here. But some Cubans have
been ordered deported, usually because they committed crimes. The United
States could not carry out the deportations, however, because Cuba
refused to accept them.
Some progress came in 1984, when Cuba agreed to repatriate a limited
number of people — mostly criminals and mental patients who arrived
during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, according to the agreement and media
accounts at the time.
A total of 2,746 people are on that limited list, and Cuba has so far
accepted 1,999 of them, federal officials say. Another five Cubans not
on the list were also deported.
Federal officials said this week that the 1984 agreement remains unchanged.
"US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not changed its
removal policies for Cuban nationals ordered removed," Barbara Gonzalez,
senior adviser to Latin America for ICE, said in a statement. "ICE
operations remain the same."
Last week, President Obama announced that the United States would
reestablish formal ties with Cuba, including opening embassies in Havana
and Washington. But he did not say how that would affect one of ICE's
top priorities: deporting criminals.
To deport illegal immigrants, the United States needs travel papers for
them, such as a passport. If their native country refuses to issue the
necessary papers, the United States cannot deport them.
Many of the Cuban deportees likely arrived in 1980, when then leader
Fidel Castro allowed Cubans to leave from the port of Mariel, an exodus
of 125,000 refugees known as the Mariel Boatlift.
Most refugees were not criminals, according to media accounts, and they
were eventually cleared to apply for green cards and US citizenship. But
according to the State Department, a number of criminals were
"involuntarily included" on the flotilla to the United States. Once
here, some committed crimes and were given deportation orders, but they
were never included on the list of citizens that Cuba agreed to take back.
Cuba is far from alone in this refusal — China, India, and Jamaica have
delayed or refused deportations in the past. Negotiations can drag on
for years. Vietnam and the United States resumed diplomatic ties in
1995, for instance, but Vietnam didn't start accepting deportees until 2008.
Even now, Vietnam does not accept deportees who arrived in the United
States before the two countries renewed relations in 1995.
Faced with these stalemates in the past, the United States jailed
foreigners for deportation for years — long after their criminal
sentences were over — stirring outcry from human rights groups. In 2001,
the Supreme Court declared this practice unlawful and said immigrants
should be released after six months if the United States couldn't deport
In 2005, the high court reaffirmed that protection for Cubans who came
from Mariel, leading to the release of hundreds of people.
Among those released was Juan Carlos Hernandez, a Cuban national and
convicted burglar who was detained for 14 years after he finished his
sentence. By the time he was released from Fort Devens, his health had
deteriorated so much that he was in a wheelchair. He has repeatedly
declined to comment through his lawyer.
His lawyer, Kevin Barron of Boston, said the new diplomatic ties may
pave the way for more deportations. But he said it would be cruel to
force someone like Hernandez to leave.
"Somebody in a wheelchair is going to be put back to a country where he
knows no one?" Barron said. "Why would you send somebody vulnerable like
that into a place where he wasn't wanted?"
Others are skeptical that Cuba will accept more deportees, and said
President Obama should have secured that agreement before renewing ties.
"Unless we hold something over them, why would they do something they
don't want to do?" said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center
for Immigration Studies in Washington. "Why would Cuba comply when they
got what they want and basically Uncle Sam blinked?
Despite the Supreme Court rulings barring indefinite detention, some
Cubans have been held longer under rules that allow for the long-term
jailing of immigrants who are mentally ill and dangerous.
Among them are Aurelio Marquez-Coromina, 62, and Manuel Reyes-Pena, 60,
now in a federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind.
Reyes-Pena has been detained by ICE since Oct. 12, 1993, federal records
show. He was convicted in 1984 of kidnapping, sexual battery, and grand
theft and has filed dozens of habeas petitions to get out of jail —
calling himself "the unofficial prison cat man" in one — and judges have
Marquez-Coromina has been detained since Aug. 31, 1995. He was convicted
of armed robbery in a case in which prosecutors said he threatened to
blow a shopkeeper's head off. Federal records show he suffers from
paranoid schizophrenia and harbors uncontrollable urges to kill people.
In 2006, Marquez-Coromina denied in a federal suit that he was dangerous
and described himself as a devout Christian.
Immigration officials have said the men are jailed because they are too
dangerous to release — and because Cuba has refused to take them back.
Source: Renewing ties with Cuba raises questions about deportees - Metro
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