Sunday, January 15, 2017

‘Marielitos’ Face Long-Delayed Reckoning - Expulsion to Cuba

'Marielitos' Face Long-Delayed Reckoning: Expulsion to Cuba

MIAMI — They were some of the most feared people in South Florida, men
who became cinematic fodder and, long before Donald J. Trump uttered the
term "bad hombres," ones who really did give some immigrants a bad name.

For almost 40 years, they were also pawns in the cold war between the
United States government and Fidel Castro: once and future criminals who
joined a mass flotilla of refugees that left Mariel Harbor and landed on
Florida's shores, then bedeviled Miami and other American cities that
had taken them in.

The United States did not want them. Nor did Cuba, which refused to take
them back.

On Thursday, President Obama announced the immediate end of the
so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which allowed Cuban migrants to
stay in the United States if they reached its shores, special treatment
that drew the ire of the Cuban government. The flip side of the deal got
far less attention, but it effectively closed one chapter in the
tortured relationship between the two countries: Cuba agreed to take
back up to 500 criminal Mariel refugees.

They arrived as young, often brash young men. Now they are middle-aged
or even older, possibly years removed from their last crimes. Officials
who once reckoned with them, though, do not remember them kindly.

"They were street urchins with bad intent," said Jim Shedd, a former
D.E.A. agent in Miami. "Within two weeks of getting here, some of them
were working for dopers, bringing in loads and doing rip-offs."

The Cuban exodus began in 1980, when Mr. Castro opened the port at
Mariel for people who wanted to leave, and over a period of months
125,000 Cubans did. Most were law-abiding, but the Cuban leader had
opened prison and mental institution doors, too, and within a few years,
almost 3,000 of the refugees were in American jails after committing new

Frantic city officials around the nation set up task forces and
committees to study the "marielitos." The term became associated with
criminals for a time, which stigmatized others who came on the boatlift,
a situation not helped by the movie "Scarface," in which Al Pacino plays
a Mariel refugee who becomes a coldblooded Miami drug lord.

Las Vegas determined that 550 of its 2,000 refugees were career
criminals, and Los Angeles said that two-thirds of its Mariel immigrants
had been arrested within a few years of arrival. In Miami, which cocaine
and turf wars had turned into one of the most dangerous places in
America, court officials found that half of the people found incompetent
to stand trial because of mental illness were Mariel refugees.

The Cuban government eventually agreed to take back 2,746 of the
criminal Mariel refugees. But the deportations were slow and in some
years did not take place at all. At one point, prisoners who had been
awaiting deportation for years rioted in several cities.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not
indefinitely detain Mariel refugees who committed crimes but whom Cuba
refused to take back. Since then, many have been set free at the
conclusion of their prison sentences.

Nearly 250 of them have died, and, by June of last year, 478 of the
original 2,746 to be deported remained in the United States, according
to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Those, however, are not necessarily the ones who will be deported under
the Obama administration's deal with Cuba. Some are elderly or very ill,
and the American government has lost interest in deporting them, said a
senior Department of Homeland Security official who spoke on the
condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.

In their place, Cuba has agreed to accept other Mariel refugees who have
been convicted of crimes in the United States but were not part of the
original group ordered deported.

The official said that the United States government had not yet begun
making a list of whom to send back; it was also unclear how it would go
about rounding up those who have been living freely for years.

Pat Diaz, a former Miami-Dade County homicide detective, said he thought
the authorities would have a difficult time tracking down people who
committed crimes so long ago, though he noted that some of the most
serious ones are still incarcerated.

Also unclear is the fate of tens of thousands of Cubans who have
deportation orders but did not arrive with the Mariel boatlift. The
agreement announced Thursday said that Cuba would consider whether to
take them back "on a case-by-case basis."

Siro del Castillo, a human-rights activist in Miami who helped the
Mariel refugees while they were in detention, said many of the refugees
ordered deported were not particularly dangerous; they just had the
misfortune of being in police custody at the time the original list was
drafted. But "some of those people might have been hard-core criminals,"
he said.

"I'm sure there are people who were on the list who are finishing 30-,
35-year sentences and can now be deported," he said.

Mr. Diaz, the former detective, recalled the case of a 20-year-old
Mariel refugee who in 1981 killed one cabdriver, shot and robbed
another, and shot a friend in the eye during an argument. Mr. Diaz
remembers him as one of the most violent robbers he ever dealt with in
25 years, and still has a newspaper photo at his house of the man's arrest.

The man is now 54 and married. After serving 20 years of a life
sentence, he is on parole and living in Illinois, according to the
Florida Department of Corrections. It was unclear Friday whether there
is an active order of deportation against him, and he did not respond to

But if Mr. Diaz had a say, the man would be soon on his way to Cuba.

"He was vicious," he said. "He was bad news. They should ship him back."

Lizette Alvarez contributed reporting.

Source: 'Marielitos' Face Long-Delayed Reckoning: Expulsion to Cuba -
The New York Times -

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