Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cubans who can’t be deported could end up detained in U.S. (Miami Herald)

Cubans who can’t be deported could end up detained in U.S.
Cubans with deportation orders are alarmed about a bill in Congress that immigrant rights activists say could lead to indefinite detentions.

Posted on Tuesday, 06.21.11

Julio Muñoz, who arrived during the Mariel boatlift in 1980, spent more time in immigration detention than in prison over drug convictions.

But he finally was freed when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 ruled that Mariel convicts could not be held in detention indefinitely just because they cannot be deported to Cuba.

Now Muñoz, like many other Cubans with deportation orders, has grown alarmed about a new bill recently introduced in the U.S. Congress that immigrant rights activists say could enable immigration authorities to re-detain indefinitely Cubans with criminal records who cannot be returned home.

“If they detain me again until I can be deported, I’d rather kill myself,” said Muñoz, voicing a sentiment echoed by other Mariel refugees interviewed at Camillus Health Concern, a clinic for the homeless and people of low-income near downtown Miami.

“I would hang myself if it came to that,” said Raúl Rodríguez, 53, another Mariel refugee with a final order of deportation freed from indefinite detention. “It’s like if you put a little bird in a cage, it dies of sadness.”

Though there is no immediate prospect for the bill to become law, some immigrant rights advocates say they are closely monitoring it because it was filed by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee and architect of 1996 laws that toughened immigration enforcement.

The Smith bill would essentially restore the ability of immigration authorities to hold indefinitely convicted foreign nationals until they can be deported, a power the immigration service lost when the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 and 2005 that foreign nationals who cannot be deported cannot be held in detention longer than six months.

While the Smith bill does not mention Cubans, activists say island immigrants likely would be among the most affected if the law passes because they make up one of the largest contingents of foreign nationals who cannot be deported.

Smith’s office, however, has a different view.

A staffer in the House Judiciary Committee that Smith heads said the bill does not target all “nondeportable” Cubans, but “dangerous nondeportable criminal immigrants’’ whether they are Cuban or from any other country. The staffer said “prolonged” detention would be reserved for “murderers, rapists and child molesters,” though the bill itself does not list those specific crimes.

It refers to “aggravated felonies’’ that under immigration law include other crimes such as drug offenses. The staffer also said that the bill would not be “retroactive,” though immigrant rights activists said language in the bill would allow immigration authorities to detain foreign nationals even if their deportation orders were issued before the bill is enacted into law.
Immigration advocates are in an uproar.

“This bill is so sweeping that it would result in thousands of harmless immigrants being jailed for years – among them, asylum seekers and torture survivors,” said Susana Barciela, policy director for Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.

Ira Kurzban, a Miami immigration lawyer considered a national authority on immigration law, said the Smith bill was an “attempt to reverse” prior Supreme Court rulings.

Eduardo Soto, a Coral Gables immigration attorney, said the “most disturbing” part of the bill is that it could deny bond to detained immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings.

However, some immigration lawyers were skeptical that the Smith bill could become law.

“It is an effort by Smith to get some publicity and derail the talk about immigration reform which is the real issue,” said Wilfredo Allen, a prominent Miami immigration attorney.


Smith himself has cited as a reason for his proposal the case of a Cuban convict accused of killing a police officer in Fort Myers after being released from immigration detention because he could not be deported.

“In the early 1990s, Abel Arango came to the United States from Cuba and began a life of crime in Florida,” wrote Smith in an op-ed piece published in The Miami Herald May 25. “He served time in prison for armed robbery, and when he was released in 2004 he was supposed to be deported. But Cuba would not take him back. As a result, Arango was free to walk our streets.”

On July 18, 2008, Arango shot and killed Fort Myers police officer Andrew Widman. Other officers shot and killed Arango.

Widman’s death caused an uproar in Fort Myers. The local media blamed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for failing to deport Arango – even though ICE officials explained that the law required his release because he could not be deported.

As a policy, the U.S. does not deport Cubans to the island because there is no democracy there, but Cuba also as a practice refuses to accept deportees unless they are part of a list of 2,746 Mariel convicts Havana agreed to take back in 1984.

All other deportable Cuban convicts, more than 30,000, have been freed and placed on supervised release in light of the 2001 and 2005 Supreme Court rulings prohibiting indefinite detention of foreign nationals who cannot be deported.

As a result of the 2005 rulings, almost 2,000 Mariel convicts in indefinite detention were released.


Among those released was Muñoz, 54, who arrived on April 30, 1980, during the Mariel boatlift. Eventually, Muñoz ran afoul of U.S. law over drug possession charges. After finishing his sentences, immigration officials took him into custody and an immigration judge ordered him deported.

Because Muñoz could not be deported to Cuba, he continued in detention until the Supreme Court acted in 2005.

“Immigration kept me in custody longer than I was in prison,” Muñoz said. “I was in prison for periods of six months, eight months or nine months at a time but immigration kept me for almost three years.”

In 2005, Muñoz – like hundreds of other Mariel convicts in indefinite detention – was released. Muñoz now lives under a permanent ICE order of supervision that requires him to report periodically to ICE.

Interviews this past week with about a dozen Cuban convicts who have been ordered deported revealed deep frustration not only with the pending Smith bill but also with ICE’s reporting requirements.

Concepción Ventura, 42, a Cuban who fled the island by sneaking into the Guantánamo naval base in 1989, said hundreds of Cubans no longer report to ICE because they have grown nervous about the possibility of being detained or deported if they show up at the immigration office.

“Many Cubans who are required to report to ICE because they are under deportation orders have gone into hiding,” Ventura said.

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