Supreme Court Ruling Will Release More Than 700 Cubans

Ruth Morris, Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), Jan. 14

Miami–The Supreme Court’s long-awaited decision to curtail detentions of undocumented criminal immigrants will empty federal prison cells of nearly 1,000 deportees with no country to receive them.

Wednesday’s decision protects a relatively narrow group of immigrant convicts labeled “excludable,” meaning they were never technically allowed into the United States, such as stowaways. The ruling also specifies the immigrant must come from a tiny group of countries that have no repatriation treaties with the United States and simply refuse to take their citizens back. They include Cambodia, Cuba, Vietnam, and occasionally China.

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Among the 920 convicts to be freed, the government said Thursday, are 747 Cubans who came to the United States during the Mariel boatlift in 1980 and have finished jail sentences for crimes that range from theft to murder. Since Haiti receives deportees, South Florida’s large Haitian community was unaffected.

“It was justice delayed, but it was very emotional,” said Rafael Peñalver, a Miami lawyer and longtime advocate of Cuban prisoners who said he raised a grateful toast with his wife the evening of the decision. Although Peñalver did not represent the two plaintiffs named in the Supreme Court case, the ruling for him closed a bumpy, 25-year legal saga to protect a dwindling group of convicts caught in the legal no man’s land of a diplomatic freeze in Cuban-American relations.

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