One of two Mariel Cubans whose cases against the U.S. government led to the Supreme Court decision barring the indefinite detention of illegal migrants died Monday, his attorney said.
By ADRIAN SAINZ
Posted March 28 2005, 11:55 AM EST
MIAMI—Daniel Benitez, 49, died of an apparent heart attack in Hialeah, attorney Emilio De La Cal said.
Benitez arrived in the United States in the 1980 ``freedom flotilla’’ that departed from the port of Mariel, Cuba, and brought about 125,000 Cubans to the country over a six-month period. He moved in with relatives in the Miami area.
In 1993, Benitez pleaded guilty to armed robbery charges and was sentenced to a state prison term.
He finished his sentence in late 2001, but he was held in U.S. immigration custody under a 1996 law that tightened restrictions on criminal aliens. The law allows extended detention for people facing deportation, if the attorney general believes they are dangerous.
The high court ruled in 2001 that it would be unconstitutional to detain legal immigrants who have served time for crimes for more than a ``reasonable period,’’ generally six months.
After hearing the cases of Benitez and Sergio Suarez Martinez, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in January that the 2001 decision should cover illegal immigrants. The ruling allowed for the release of about 1,000 Mariel Cubans who were not eligible for deportation because their native country would not accept them.
Benitez, who had been released in October after officials decided he was not a danger to the community, had faced a possible return to immigration detention. But the Supreme Court ruling prevented that.
``He was enjoying freedom for the first time in a long time. He couldn’t even savor it,’’ De La Cal said.
John Mills, his attorney in the Supreme Court case, said Benitez began the legal battle when he filed his own petition in a federal court in 1993. After losing that case, Benitez filed his own appeal with the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta. It was only after losing there that he was appointed a lawyer, Mills said.
``While he was in prison he became a Jehovah’s Witness; he was a very spiritual, religious man,’’ Mills said Monday.