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Florida prompts US to keep Cuban criminals in custody

The Justice Department, reversing an earlier decision, will continue its policy of taking custody of Mariel refugees who are released from state jails, pending deportation. A Friday announcement that the Justice Department would end the policy brought an outcry from Florida officials. Gov. Bob Graham (D) threatened to file suit to prevent the release of the Cubans.

More than 700 Mariel prisoners, who arrived on the 1980 Mariel boatlift along with more than 100,000 other Cubans, are in Florida institutions.

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Federal authorities have been detaining former inmates awaiting deportation to Cuba.

US Sen. Paula Hawkins (R) of Florida said Immigration Commissioner Alan Nelson called her to announce that the original custody policy will remain in effect, at least temporarily. She added that immigration officials were scheduled to review the Mariel refugee policy again today.

The policy of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) says any illegal alien convicted of a crime in the United States must be deported to his native country after completing a prison sentence.

But Cuban leader Fidel Castro, rescinding an earlier agreement with the US, refused to accept any more deportees after Radio Mart'i went on the air in May. The US-run station broadcasts directly to Cuba.

``Our state has borne far more than its share of the refugee burden,'' Governor Graham said. ``The action by the Justice Department in allowing the release of these convicted illegal refugees is wrong and must be stopped.''

After the Justice Department's reversal was announced, Graham said in a statement that he hoped ``this experience makes the Justice Department realize the importance establishing a policy to return the criminal illegal aliens back to Cuba.''

Duke Austin, a spokesman for INS in Washington, on Friday defended the government's action, saying federal prisons don't have enough housing for the estimated 1,000 Mariel prisoners serving time in various states for crimes committed after entering the country.

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