Some Cuban felons, including 2,000 murderers, could face deportation
under new policy
BY JAY WEAVER AND MIMI WHITEFIELD
The sudden end of America's "wet foot, dry foot" policy and special
immigration privileges for Cubans may open the door for another move
that would have a major impact on thousands of South Florida families:
deporting convicted Cuban felons back to the island.
The U.S. government counts 28,400 of them, with the vast majority free
after serving prison time for their felony convictions in the United States.
After decades of maintaining a hard line to never take them back, Cuban
officials said Thursday that they would consider the proposition — which
has been one of the topics in negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba
since diplomatic relations were restored in 2015. It appears unlikely
there would be a mass deportation by the U.S., but both sides signaled a
diplomatic opening for case-by-case negotiations.
Gustavo Machin, deputy director of the U.S. section of Cuba's Foreign
Ministry, said his government would consider cases of Cubans who have
"broken laws" in the United States and "can no longer remain" in the
The issue is controversial, to say the least, because among the large
number of Cuban felons now facing removal to their homeland are those
convicted of committing more than 2,000 murders in the United States,
according to the Department of Homeland Security.
For decades, all of the released felons have been allowed to live in
Florida and other parts of the United States under the supervision of
immigration authorities because the federal government had no diplomatic
relations with Cuba to deport them since the early 1960s. Of the total
facing deportations, about 18,000 live in Florida.
But now that President Barack Obama has repealed the wet foot, dry foot
policy allowing Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay, the removal of
thousands of Cuban nationals convicted of felony crimes in this country
seems at least possible. Although there is no specific mention of the
felon issue in the new U.S. migration accord with Cuba, one section
addresses Cuban immigrants who "remain" in America "in violation of U.S.
law." It further says the U.S. government "shall focus on individuals
... determined to be priorities for return."
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters on Thursday that
"under our agreement with Cuba, there was also the possibility that the
Cubans will accept back migrants outside of this arrangement, but on a
Some South Florida legal experts who have been following the issue said
the removal of the Cuban felons is long overdue.
"Convicted felons of Cuban origin should be deported if they cannot
establish a lawful reason for the United States to refrain from sending
them back," said Miami lawyer Marcos Jimenez, a former U.S. attorney in
South Florida. "And Cuba should accept them back, so Cuba honors its end
of the bargain now that the countries have re-established diplomatic
Jimenez, who was appointed U.S. attorney by former President George W.
Bush, said the removals "should absolutely be a priority for the new
But at the same time, Jimenez said, the Cuban government "should deport"
potentially dozens of U.S. fugitives wanted for crimes in this country
"who are hiding in Cuba."
Over the past two decades, there has been an uptick in federal crimes,
such as Medicare and other government fraud, with Cuban suspects fleeing
to the island with their stolen benefits — a troubling trend that
compelled a few Cuban-American politicians to question the special
political refugee status afforded new immigrants from the island.
For decades, Cubans — including those convicted in the United States —
have benefited from unique immigration privileges while their country
and America shared no diplomatic relations.
Generally speaking, the Obama administration has aggressively enforced
U.S. law requiring the deportation of other foreign nationals with
criminal convictions: More than one million felons have been sent back
to their countries since 2009, mostly for immigration and
drug-trafficking offenses, records show. But similar actions have rarely
been pursued against Cubans in decades, largely owing to Havana's
refusal to take them back.
Unlike other immigrant groups, Cubans were automatically given a special
status as political refugees under U.S. law in the years after Fidel
Castro's 1959 revolution. Under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, any Cuban
who enters the country can apply for a green card, or permanent legal
residency, after one year and a day. They can also apply for U.S.
citizenship after five years, if they haven't committed a crime.
As a result, without a new immigration agreement in place with the Cuban
government, the vast majority of Cuban felons who served their prison
terms were released back into society. That's because they could not be
detained indefinitely under two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2005
that prohibit the permanent detention of immigrants who cannot be
deported. So, in the meantime, they fall under the supervision of
Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
There has been only one exception to the no-deportation rule, in the
aftermath of the 1980 Mariel boat-lift. The Cuban government had sent
several thousand criminals and patients from mental institutions to
Florida as part of an exodus of 125,000 Cuban refugees.
Afterward, under a 1984 repatriation agreement, U.S. and Cuba officials
agreed to a list of about 2,750 Cuban citizens who could be deported to
the island. Of those, more than 2,020 have been sent back, according to
Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Another 250 have died, and 475 are
too old and sick to be returned.
But based on that agreement, Homeland Security officials said they have
had little control over which cases the Cuban government would accept —
including felons facing U.S. deportation orders. Indeed, the Havana
government has accepted the return of only five Cubans not included on
the Mariel list.
In addition, there are 6,700 Cubans facing deportations for non-criminal
violations of U.S. immigration laws, including those who never applied
for permanent residency after living in the country for more than a year.
Jay Weaver: 305-376-3446, @jayhweaver
Source: Some Cuban felons, including 2,000 murders, could face
deporation under new policy | Miami Herald -