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Coalition Asks OAS Tribunal To Investigate U.S. Detention Of Cuban Refugees

April 15, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A coalition of human rights and religious organizations said Wednesday it has asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the detention of 3,400 Cuban refugees in American prisons.

The coalition, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, said a petition filed last week in Washington asks the Organization of American States’ tribunal to find that the United States has violated OAS human rights agreements by detaining the Cubans without a hearing.

″The fundamental issue in this complaint is fairness, simple plain fairness,″ ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser told a news conference. ″What we ask is nothing more than hearings for each of the Cubans detained.″

The jailed Cubans are among the 125,000 refugees who arrived in the U.S. in 1980 during the ″Freedom Flotilla″ boatlift from the port of Mariel. Most of the refugees have been assimilated into American society.

But about 3,400 of them have been deemed ″excludable″ by U.S. immigration officials because of mental illness or crimes committed in Cuba or the United States. More than 1,800 of the refugees are being held in the Atlanta federal prison, including some 300 who have been imprisoned since 1980.

The U.S. began deporting the refugees in 1985 under an agreement with the Cuban government, but only 201 were deported before Cuban leader Fidel Castro stopped accepting them when the United States launched Radio Marti, a Spanish language service aimed at Cuba.

Glasser, contending that the 3,400 refugees have become ″human pawns in some macho game between this government and the Cuban government,″ said their situation is similar to that of the Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned during World War II.

″Forty-five years later, almost all Americans are ashamed of what happened then,″ he said. ″But we can’t wait 45 years. It will be too late to restore the lives that have been ruined by the government’s action.

″What we ask is very simple - a fair hearing for each individual to determine whether or not they can be safely released into the larger community,″ he said.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob of Atlanta ruled in 1983 that the government must release the Cubans unless it can prove at a hearing before a neutral judge that they pose a risk to national security or a threat to individuals or property.

But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, ruling that the Cubans have no constitutional right to a hearing on their immigration applications. The Supreme Court refused last fall to hear the case.

The coalition last year asked the United Nations Human Rights Commission to investigate the detention of the Cubans, but officials of the group conceded that ″as far as we can tell there is no prospect for action″ on that request.

They also acknowledged that even if the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights should rule against the United States and recommend that the individual Cuban detainees be granted hearings, the panel has no power to enforce its ruling.

Nevertheless, Glasser said, ″We simply refuse to stand by and accept the inaction in the face of this kind of denial of fairness to an entire group of people.″

In addition to the ACLU, other groups joining in the petition were the International Human Rights Law Group and the National Council of Churches’ Human Rights Office.

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