The first case of a newly released Mariel detainee in South Florida surfaced in Miami.
Posted on Mon, Feb. 28, 2005
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
Carlos Bueno Rodríguez, recently released Mariel detainee, arrived home in Miami over the weekend after a 24-hour bus trip from New Orleans—but he didn’t really have a place to call home.
Under a persistent drizzle, Bueno Rodríguez made his way to east Little Havana near downtown Miami’s gleaming skyscrapers Saturday evening, looking for a friend he remembered who lived in the area. But he wasn’t sure he would be able to find him.
His backup plan: go to a homeless shelter if he didn’t find his friend.
Bueno Rodríguez, 54, is the first released Mariel detainee to surface publicly in Miami since the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 12 expanded prohibitions on the indefinite detention of convicted foreign nationals who cannot be deported and could not legally be admitted into the United States.
Immigration officials said there are 94 detainees in Florida covered by the Supreme Court ruling, including about 20 in Miami.
Immigrant rights activists say there have been releases of Mariel detainees in South Florida, but the ex-detainees have not made themselves available to the media. Bueno Rodríguez is the first.
Thousands of Cuban refugees who arrived during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, including Bueno Rodríguez, were classified as excludable under immigration law—thus deemed undeserving of due process if in immigration detention.
More than 200 of the 747 Mariel detainees covered by the Supreme Court decision have been released since the ruling, including Bueno Rodríguez.
He was released Feb. 11 from a detention facility in western Louisiana, where he was in immigration custody under deportation orders that could not be carried out because Cuba refuses to take back Cubans ordered expelled from the United States.
All of the Mariel detainees being released were convicted at some point but have served their sentences. After finishing their terms, they remained in immigration detention pending expulsion from the country.
Bueno Rodríguez, for example, was convicted twice of burglaries in Dade County—the first time in 1987 and the second in 2001.
In the first case, the sentence was shorter than the time in immigration detention: one year versus 12.
In the second instance, Bueno Rodríguez was sentenced to two years in 2001 and would have been released in 2003—had immigration not taken him into custody again. He was freed by the Supreme Court order.
Early on Feb. 11, Bueno Rodríguez recalled, guards hauled him and two other Mariel detainees to a van full of non-Cuban migrants.
‘‘They didn’t tell us anything, or where they were taking us,’’ Bueno Rodríguez said in an interview after arriving from New Orleans.
They drove to New Orleans and when the van stopped in front of a Salvation Army homeless shelter, a guard told Bueno Rodríguez and the other Cubans to get out.
‘He then filled out papers for each one of us and said, `free, free.’ He got back in the van and drove off.’‘
They walked into the homeless shelter and stayed there for three nights for free—but had to leave because after the third night they had to start paying $7 a day.
They turned up at the office of Sue Weishar, director of immigration and refugee services for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans.
She found them a free homeless shelter and food.
When the media found out that newly released Mariel detainees were turning up homeless in New Orleans, stories appeared in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, The Herald and other newspapers across the country.
Immigrant rights advocates criticized immigration authorities for releasing detainees without a transition plan or work permits.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials responded that they were simply complying with the court ruling and that the groups that championed the detainees’ release should step forward and help them. They also pointed out that homeless cases were only being reported in one city.
Meanwhile, immigration authorities began expediting work permits for the released detainees and explaining more fully the system.
Manny Van Pelt, a Homeland Security spokesman in Washington, said field directors received guidelines enabling them to spend up to $250 on each released detainee. He said this didn’t mean each released detainee would get $250. It meant that if the detainee needs a bus ticket to get home and the ticket costs $200, the service will spend $200 on the ticket and then give the detainee the balance in cash for food along the way. But if the ticket costs $100, then the detainee would get only about $40 for food, he said.
Ana Santiago, a Miami spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said work permits for detainees would be issued the same day and that the $175 fee would be waived on a case-by-case basis.
MIAMI IS HOME
Of six ex-detainees who turned up homeless in New Orleans, only Bueno Rodríguez chose to travel to Miami right away on a ticket bought through the emergency service Travelers Aid.
‘‘I consider Miami home,’’ Bueno Rodríguez told The Herald minutes after getting off the bus. ``This is where I arrived after I left Mariel in a boat in June 1980. This is where I lived after leaving Cuba. I know how to get around Miami with my eyes closed.’‘
Bueno Rodríguez planned to start looking for a job this week. He already has a work permit, which he received in New Orleans.
‘‘I have no relatives, no close friends,’’ Bueno Rodríguez said. ``I’m alone.’‘