Mariel Cubans Need Justice Too

Mark Dow in today's Miami Herald examines the plight of the Mariel Cubans, and the Bush Administration's insidious attempt to keep them locked up forever:

They are not suspected terrorists. They are not ''enemy combatants.'' They are not even charged with a crime. But on Oct. 13, in Clark vs. Martinez and Benitez vs. Rozos before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Bush administration defended the executive's authority to imprison them on U.S. soil until they are dead.

Allowed to depart the island in 1980 from the port of Mariel, some 125,000 Cubans came to the United States over a six-month period. Many of them have committed crimes here, and detention typically begins on completion of a criminal sentence for anything from murder to shoplifting -- though one Mariel Cuban was locked up for not being able to afford medical care. Cuba will not take them back, and the United States says that it can detain them for any length of time.

The Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration & Customs Enforcement is authorized to detain non-U.S. citizens so that it can deport them. In 2001 the Supreme Court ruled in Zadvydas vs. Davis that when a detainee's deportation cannot be carried out within a ''reasonably foreseeable'' period, defined by the court as six months in most cases, she must be released. Obviously the Zadvydas ruling applies to immigrants who are present the United States.

Why shouldn't the same reasoning be applied to the Mariel Cubans? It's time to end the legal fiction that because they were paroled into the U.S. they never legally entered the country.

''Isn't there a point at which the fiction'' of no-entry can no longer be applied? After all, the Mariel Cubans have been here for a quarter century. One hopes that a majority of Supreme Court justices will decide to set a limit, acknowledging the real lives behind the razor wire of legal fictions.

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