Castro “Terrorism” Label is Echoed by U.S.

SAN DIEGO – Given the foreign policy of the United States, one would assume that an anti-Castro activist who was imprisoned for more than a decade by the Castro government would be a strong candidate for asylum. But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security instead locked away Miguel Fernandez Crespo in an immigration detention center, where he has remained for more than a year, opposes his application for asylum, and refuses to release him on parole.

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The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus yesterday, claiming that his continued indefinite detention is unlawful. “The facts in this case are outrageous,” said Sean Riordan, staff attorney for the San Diego ACLU. “Our government is routinely and mechanically detaining asylum seekers on feeble ‘national security’ or ‘terrorism’ grounds, which is bad enough. Yet in this instance, they are detaining someone opposed to the Castro regime—the same totalitarian regime that the U.S. government has sought for decades to replace.”

The lawsuit claims that Fernandez’s predicament is similar to countless others—many who are victims of persecution, torture and terrorism themselves—whom DHS detains indefinitely. The ACLU seeks an end to DHS’s repeated contentions that its unilateral decisions are unreviewable and that asylum seekers are not entitled to a hearing before a neutral party to determine whether their continued detention is justified. DHS opposes Fernandez’s asylum application, saying he is “engaged in terrorist activity” and in providing “material support to a terrorist organization.”

Fernandez was born in Havana, Cuba. He was imprisoned for six months for “illegal departure” after attempting to escape to the U.S. when he was twenty. He then became active in the Pro-Human Rights Party of Cuba, a party opposed to the Castro regime, where he gathered signatures for a referendum and sought to recruit party members. He attended a few meetings of a youth group that discussed some far-fetched ideas about violent acts to destabilize the Castro regime, but he described the discussions as expressions of “young, passionate and idealistic” dissidents’ “frustration with a brutal and repressive regime,” and stopped meeting with the group so he could focus on planning a second escape. Once again, he was caught, arrested, and detained without trial for six months. Eventually he was convicted in a political show trial without a jury, independent judge, effective assistance of counsel, or meaningful access to the government’s evidence or ability to confront the government’s witnesses. The nationally televised trial lasted one day. All defendants were found guilty, and Fernandez was sentenced to 17 years in prison. A large part of the Cuban case against Fernandez revolves around his expressive political activities—speech that certainly would have been protected by the First Amendment if it occurred in this country.

“That the United States is giving any credence to this mock trial and sentence would be laughable if the matter was not so serious,” said David Loy, legal director for the San Diego ACLU. “Our own government is continuing the due process violations suffered by Mr. Fernandez—the exact opposite of what the American justice system is supposed to do.”

The San Diego ACLU’s writ asks the federal court to immediately release Fernandez from custody under reasonable supervision or to order a hearing before an immigration judge under instruction to release him unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that Fernandez’s continued detention is justified.

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