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Washington-bound Exiles To Protest Deportation Of Cuban Detainees

November 23, 1987

MIAMI (AP) _ Worried wives and mothers of Cuban detainees who face possible deportation under a U.S.-Cuba immigration pact boarded buses Monday for Washington to plead with officials not to send back 700 Mariel inmates.

While some 2,700 detainees are targeted to be deported to Cuba, the group of relatives here are rallying on behalf of an estimated 700 Cubans in particular who have families in this country.

″We don’t want the families divided,″ said Aida Betancur, who organized the trip for about 100 Cuban exiles. ″We need a response, a guarantee, that our relatives won’t be deported ... They left a Communist country. What they can expect if they are sent back is death.″

The women’s group left hours before Attorney General Edwin Meese III announced that the federal government was prepared to put the deportations on hold if hostages were released promptly.

Cuba has agreed to renew immigration ties by taking back about 2,700 refugees who are not eligible to stay because of mental illness or past criminal records and allowing up to 27,000 Cubans to emigrate annually.

The State Department’s announcement of the accord Friday sparked a riot of hundreds of Cuban inmates at the Federal Alien Detention Center in Oakdale, La., who have kept the facility under siege since Saturday, and Monday at the Atlanta federal prison.

So far, there is no official list of who will be returned to Cuba.

But Arcenia Martinez, 58, fearing her son may be among those sent back, bought a $100 roundtrip ticket on La Cubana Omnibus and Monday joined dozens of wives and mothers toting bags and coats on their trip to Washington.

Ms. Martinez said her 38-year-old son, who is being held in El Paso, Texas, was arrested in February 1985 and given a 20-month sentence.

″We were told that with his good behavior, they would free him,″ Ms. Martinez said. ″They even interviewed him to be released, but he’s still in prison. Now with the pact, we fear at any time he’ll be taken back to Cuba.″

Marecela Hernandez, the detainee’s sister, says that would be a fate worse than death.

Elena Perez’s husband was arrested in March 1985 and given a five-year sentence, which was reduced by three years for good behavior. Last month, he was transferred from the Krome Detention Center here to Laredo, Texas, where he is being held indefinitely, Mrs. Perez said.

″We’re not asking (to release) criminals or assassins but people who have families here and have paid their debt to society,″ said Mrs. Perez, who was traveling with other family members, including a 5-year-old daughter.

Mrs. Perez, 27, said her 29-year-old husband didn’t believe violence was the answer to what they see as an inhumane and unjust situation. But she said it was easy to understand heightened tensions at detention facilities holding Cubans, including Oakdale.

″The violence is just the result of desperation,″ Mrs. Perez said.

Leonore Martinez, 59, is concerned how disturbances will affect efforts to prevent the possible deportation of detainees with families in this country. Her nephew has been held in Marksville, La., although he completed a 21-month sentence in April.

She said even hard-core criminals shouldn’t be sent back and should just serve out their sentences here. ″I don’t wish Communism on even the worst criminals,″ she said.

The group, calling itself Commission Pro-Freedom For Via Mariel Detained by Immigration, plans to press for a case-by-case review of detained relatives to ensure those with families are not deported.

They have scheduled a meeting in Washington with Roberto Martinez of the Department of Justice, and are hoping the trip will raise awareness of thhe plight of their loved ones.

The group is expected to return to Miami on Wednesday.

Update hourly