Latest Cuban Migrations Prompt Criticism of U.S. Immigration Policies

Fifteen Cuban immigrants have splashed ashore in Florida over the past two days, prompting new criticism of U.S. policies that automatically give asylum to illegal immigrants from the communist nation.

Among the new arrivals are three Cubans who jumped off their rickety wooden boat Tuesday and swam two miles to Key Largo. Twelve others arrived in the Florida Keys early Wednesday.

All the Cubans were being detained for processing, U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Keith Roberts said.

Usually, Cuban migrants are released from U.S. custody within a few days. Immigration advocates contend that non-Cubans are denied due process and not given a fair chance to prove their asylum requests.

Of 220 Haitians who jumped off a beached boat in Miami last October, 70 have been released into the community, said Gharu Al-Sahli of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (search) in Miami.

But immigration judges have rejected asylum requests for 131 others, said Greg Gagne, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Immigration Review. Most of those have returned home, but 49 are appealing.

"Haitians who come here deserve to be treated like anyone else who comes here," said Dina Paul Parks, acting director of the New York-based National Coalition for Haitian Rights "The United States has a responsibility to develop an immigration system that is fair to all."

Since December 2001, Haitian immigrants applying for asylum have been kept in custody. Before the change, Haitians were generally released into the community while their requests were processed.

Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) ruled last month that if the government can show national security issues are involved, most illegal immigrants can be jailed indefinitely without bond while a judge decides their cases.

However, the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (search) allows any Cuban citizen permitted to stay in the United States for a year to apply for permanent residency. And under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are generally permitted to stay, while those caught at sea are taken back.