• U.S.

Refugees: Confined in the Land of the Free

1 minute read

Among the more than 125,000 Cuban refugees who poured into South Florida in the 1980 boatlift from the port of Mariel were a few thousand “excludable aliens,” many of whom had criminal records in Cuba. Four years later, 1,500 of them still await resolution of their cases, a mass of increasingly desperate men locked in the granite cell blocks of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Last Thursday the Marielitos rioted, setting mattresses and clothing afire amid shouts of “¡Libertad!”

Four hours passed before 200 guards using tear gas regained control of the cell block. But the basic situation remains out of control. A U.S. district court ordered the release of some of the prisoners in 1981 pending immigration hearings, which forced the Immigration and Naturalization Service to review cases individually. As a result, 3,500 of the least dangerous were freed. A federal appeals court later ruled that as excludables, the Cubans had no constitutional right to be released. That ruling did not affect those already freed. Washington wants to deport those still held in Atlanta, but Cuban President Fidel Castro has so far refused to let them return to Cuba.

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