Static: Wednesday, January 19, 2005
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Finding the Key

If you stick a gun in someone’s ribcage and relieve them of their wallet, or you steal a car, or even — as Static did years ago — fail to pay off a bunch of annoying traffic tickets, chances are at some point you will find jail cuisine on your menu. And then, sooner or later, you serve your allotted time and you get out. Almost everyone — American citizens, foreign tourists, even those here illegally — understands that basic system, flawed though it may be in practice.
Not U.S. immigration officials, however. For years, they have continued to hold in U.S. jails a small, mostly forgotten group of prisoners — including at least a dozen being held in Texas — who long ago served out their sentences, for minor or major crimes. (“Rotting in Jail in the Land of the Free,’’ Sept. 29, 2004). Those prisoners are part of a group of perhaps 750 or more Cubans who have been detained indefinitely for the simple reason that their homeland won’t take them back. For them, the usual rules did not apply — at least not until a ruling last week by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ironically, this group originally came to the United States with something called the Freedom Flotilla — about 100,000 so-called Mariel boat people who fled Cuba in 1980 and landed in the United States. Most made the transition to freedom without significant problems. But a small minority, made infamous by the murderous Al Pacino character in the movie Scarface, broke U.S. laws, were convicted and sentenced — and entered a legal limbo from which many have yet to emerge. Their crimes made them subject to deportation, but U.S. immigration officials could not persuade their counterparts in Cuba to take them back. So they languished behind bars not knowing if they would ever be free again. Some have been there for years past the time when their sentences were completed.
The Supreme Court, ruling on an appeal from two Mariel Cubans , said it would establish a “dangerous precedent’’ to “sanction indefinite detention.’’ It’s not clear when the ruling might fling open the prison doors, but immigration lawyers believe the government, sooner or later, will have to end its throw-away-the-key policy.

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