What is it about secret lists of names that immediately instill uneasiness?

That’s the feeling I get when I think of the U.S. government’s undisclosed list of almost 1,000 Cubans eligible for immediate deportation to Cuba — and with our secretive approach in general to the deportation of criminal immigrants.

In the aftermath of the 1980 Mariel wave of Cuban immigrants to South Florida, tens of thousands of recently arrived Cubans were arrested for various crimes. Because the two countries lack a formal extradition agreement, many have remained here even though they are under deportation order.

However, in 1984 Cuba agreed to take back 2,746 individuals who had been convicted of crimes here. Since then, almost 1,700 have been deported. Others have died. Today, fewer than 1,000 individuals remain on the list.

Sure, the list was secret. But everyone thought they knew the ground rules and, therefore, could predict who was and wasn’t among those who could be deported.

“You know if you’re on the list,” Grisel Ybarra, a well-known immigration attorney, told me last week.

If you came to the United States through Mariel, were convicted of a crime and paroled into the United States without ever having obtained residency, then you probably are on the list, she said.

Yet one of Ybarra’s clients, Abraham Gonzalez, recently made headlines when he was deported to Cuba for a nearly 30-year-old drug trafficking conviction. Gonzalez, who came to the United States in 1981, did not arrive here through Mariel.

Word began spreading in the Cuban community that the government was continuously adding names to the list.

Meanwhile, Ybarra insisted a mistake had been made. Gonzalez didn’t fit the criteria of people who could be on the list, she said.

Fit the criteria? We’ve never really known the criteria. Just as the names are secret, so is the process for determining their inclusion.

We now learn that non-Mariel Cubans are on the list. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez (no relation to Abraham Gonzalez) told me Mr. Gonzalez’s name had been on the list since 1984.

“No individual has been added to the list since the original agreement,” she said.

Of course, we just have to take that on faith.

When it comes to criminal immigrants, deportation in essence is part of the penalty paid for committing a crime. They are subject to a layer of privacy not enjoyed by our home-grown convicts.

In the case of the secrecy surrounding the 1984 list of Cubans subject to immediate deportation, there’s an added problem: an inability to determine the rule of law.

Gonzalez was detained by immigration officials after he voluntarily went to them as part of an effort to get his documents in order. He thought he understood his legal standing. Turns out, no one did — that is, no one but a select few.



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