Much to the dismay of immigrant activists, a bill has recently been introduced in the U.S. Congress that could enable immigration authorities to re-detain indefinitely Cubans with criminal records who cannot be deported back to their home country. During what was known as the Mariel boatlift, which occurred in 1980, many Cubans were detained indefinitely; however, that changed once the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Mariel convicts could not be held in detention indefinitely just because they cannot be deported to Cuba. Now, this bill may defiantly attempt to subvert the authority of the Supreme Court and its decision in this matter. Even though there is no immediate prospect for the bill to become law, it is being monitored closely-and rightly so. After all, it was filed by the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who is (in)famous (depending on who sets oneself up as a judge) for being the architect behind the laws enacted in 1996 that toughened immigration enforcement.
According to the Miami Herald, the bill would essentially restore the ability of immigration authorities to indefinitely hold convicted foreign nationals until they can be deported, a power the immigration service lost when the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 and 2005 that foreign nationals who cannot be deported cannot be held in detention longer than six months. While the bill does not specifically mention Cubans, activists say immigrants originally from nearby islands would likely be among the most affected if the law passes because they make up one of the largest contingents of foreign nationals who cannot be deported. According to Rep. Smith, however, the bill does not target all “non-deportable” Cubans, but “dangerous non-deportable criminal immigrants” whether they are Cubans or from any other country. Adding that “prolonged” detention would be reserved for “murderers, rapists, and child molesters,” though the bill itself does not list those specific crimes although it does refer to “aggravated felonies” that under immigration law include other crimes such as drug offenses. While staffers working for Rep. Smith took pains to say that the bill would not be “retroactive,” immigrant rights activists said the language in the bill would allow immigration authorities to detain foreign nationals even if their deportation orders were issued before the bill is enacted into law. Susana Barciela, a policy director for the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, said, ” this bill is so sweeping that it would result in thousands of harmless immigrants being jailed for years-among them, asylum seekers and torture survivors.” Similarly, a Miami immigration attorney said the “most disturbing” part of the bill is that it could deny bond to detained immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings. In addition, a Coral Gables immigration attorney said the “most disturbing” part of the bill is that it could deny bond to detained immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings. If all that is being said by skeptics is accurate, this bill could underwrite a policy of injustice to be applied across the migratory board.