U.S. Frees Hundreds of Cuban Criminals Because Havana Won’t Take Them Back

Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, June 9, 2015

Hundreds of Cuban criminals are released onto the streets of the U.S. every year because that nation won’t take them back–even though the Obama administration is trying to broker a more open relationship with the communist island nation.

It’s a quirk of immigration law known as “Zadvydas cases,” after a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that said the government cannot detain immigrants indefinitely if their home countries won’t take them back.

Cuba, China and Vietnam regularly top the list, but even some countries that are supposed to be closer partners, such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, are refusing to quickly accept some of their citizens whom the U.S. is trying to deport.

Cuba refused to take back 878 criminals last year and rejected nearly 400 through the first eight months of the current fiscal year, according to statistics that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement provided to the House Judiciary Committee. Vietnam is second, having refused 331 criminals in 2014, though it has rejected the return of only 44 criminals so far this year.

All told, the government released 2,457 criminals and 461 non-criminal illegal immigrants onto the streets last year because of the Zadvydas strictures, ICE said. This year, the totals through May 9 were 1,107 criminals and 344 noncriminals.

“The Zadvydas problem is an urgent one, considering that a large percentage of the most serious criminal alien releases are Zadvydas,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies. “Given the obvious public safety risks, the administration should be more aggressive in seeking a solution or in using the tools available to them.”

In the Zadvydas ruling, the Supreme Court said immigration detention cannot extend beyond six months unless there is a compelling national security or public safety interest. If home countries won’t cooperate in taking back their citizens, the U.S. government must release them.

Republicans in Congress have proposed a number of fixes and have pushed for tools such as withholding visas from countries that refuse to accept their scofflaws, but the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have been reluctant to take those steps.

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