U.S. frees hundreds of Cuban criminals because Havana won’t take them back
Hundreds with ‘Zadvydas cases’ refused by their home countries
By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times – Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Hundreds of Cuban criminals are released onto the streets of the U.S.
every year because that nation won’t take them back — even though the
Obama administration is trying to broker a more open relationship with
the communist island nation.
It’s a quirk of immigration law known as “Zadvydas cases,” after a 2001
Supreme Court ruling that said the government cannot detain immigrants
indefinitely if their home countries won’t take them back.
Cuba, China and Vietnam regularly top the list, but even some countries
that are supposed to be closer partners, such as Guatemala, El Salvador
and Honduras, are refusing to quickly accept some of their citizens whom
the U.S. is trying to deport.
Cuba refused to take back 878 criminals last year and rejected nearly
400 through the first eight months of the current fiscal year, according
to statistics that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement provided to
the House Judiciary Committee. Vietnam is second, having refused 331
criminals in 2014, though it has rejected the return of only 44
criminals so far this year.
All told, the government released 2,457 criminals and 461 non-criminal
illegal immigrants onto the streets last year because of the Zadvydas
strictures, ICE said. This year, the totals through May 9 were 1,107
criminals and 344 noncriminals.
“The Zadvydas problem is an urgent one, considering that a large
percentage of the most serious criminal alien releases are Zadvydas,”
said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for
Immigration Studies. “Given the obvious public safety risks, the
administration should be more aggressive in seeking a solution or in
using the tools available to them.”
In the Zadvydas ruling, the Supreme Court said immigration detention
cannot extend beyond six months unless there is a compelling national
security or public safety interest. If home countries won’t cooperate in
taking back their citizens, the U.S. government must release them.
Republicans in Congress have proposed a number of fixes and have pushed
for tools such as withholding visas from countries that refuse to accept
their scofflaws, but the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have
been reluctant to take those steps.
The issue is even more acute given that Cuba is the biggest offender and
President Obama is trying to normalize relations with that nation.
Analysts said it would be the perfect time to raise the issue of
The State Department didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment,
but there is no indication that it has raised the issue as part of the
Ms. Vaughan said that is a missed opportunity.
“It’s the best chance in decades to push Cuba to be more cooperative,”
Beyond Cuba, the government faces problems returning citizens to a
number of countries. Twelve nations refused the return of at least 70 of
their citizens in 2014, including a number of countries that received
generous U.S. aid.
One of those, Liberia, refused 85 criminals’ return, even as the U.S.
was providing extensive help to combat an Ebola outbreak.
Three other Central American countries are poised to receive hundreds of
millions of dollars in aid among them to try to stem a surge of their
citizens entering the U.S. illegally for life in the shadows.
Among them, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador refused 127 criminals
and 145 noncriminals in 2014.
The Guatemalan and Honduran embassies didn’t respond to repeated
messages requesting comment, but El Salvador’s embassy in Washington
said it does what it can while guaranteeing that its citizens go through
legal due process.
“We want to make clear that there’s no policy that allows refusing
deportations. On the contrary, our consulates give assistance to all
Salvadoran prisoners in the United States seeking to facilitate their
return to the country, where many of them won’t be in prison,” said Ana
Virginia Guardado, an embassy spokeswoman.
She said her country refused return in cases in which the individuals
rejected El Salvador’s consular help. She said El Salvador is still
working on those cases and that individuals will be given travel
documents allowing their deportation once they have exhausted all of
their legal avenues in the U.S.
She said El Salvador has worked to accept nearly 8,000 deportees so far
ICE said the Central American countries provide good cooperation and
that the relationships have grown stronger with the surge of illegal
immigrant children in the U.S. that peaked last summer.
“Through relationship-building, consular pilot programs and regular
engagement, timely issuance of travel documents has risen, as has the
host governments’ willingness and capacity to accept an increased amount
of ICE air charter flights,” spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez said.
Ms. Rodriguez said the number of refusals from the Central American
countries is low compared with the total number of deportations. El
Salvador’s 2014 refusal rate was less than half of a percent of the
total number who were accepted back.
She said the cases that are refused often have special circumstances
that make them tougher to complete. Even after they are released,
however, the Zadvydas cases are still in the system and ICE is still
working to deport them as soon as possible.
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Source: Immigrants with criminal records go free in U.S. because home
countries refuse to accept them – Washington Times –