Eglin AFB, Fla. — Federals officials are trying to determine the answer to a key question: Will the 42,000 refugees who have fled to the United States face persecution if returned to Cuba?
If so, they will likely be allowed to stay.
If not, they like the Haitian refugees now in south Florida, face deportation.
In the case of the Haitians, official are convinced these refugees will wuffer only poverty, not persecution, if returned.
Monitor interviews with dozens of Cuban refugees here indicate the most of the Cubans coming to the US in the past few weeks have not been politically active againts the regime of President Fidel Castro.
Although a minority of those arriving in the US have served prison sentences in Cuba for anticommunist acts, the vast majority of the refugees have simply grumbled at the system for years and now have leaped at the chance for a better life in the US.
Their only so-called political act against the Castro government has been to leave their country. But even this was done with the approval of the Castro regime.
Yet almost to a person, these refugees say they would almost certainly be put in jail, or worse, if returned.
One young medical student here said she almost certainly would not be allowed to resume her studies. And a number of working persons said they would be forced to take menial jobs at much lower pay than their previous work. In addition, some said they would face more of the kind of social pressures -- insults, objects thrown at their houses -- which they faced just prior to their leaving the country.
"This act of coming here is a political act," said one Cuban worker as he sat with several other men on a cot in one of the 30- person tents. He and other refugees are convinced they would pay dearly for this act if returned.
Haitians make the same point, but they are not believed by federal officials.
Wayne Joy, who heads the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) screening here says: "Technically, these people [Cubans] are saying they will persecuted fo their political beliefs. Mostly they're opposed to the communist system."
In an interview, Mr. Joy confirmed the findings of this newspaper that most of the refugees have committed no act against the Castro government other than to leave the island.
Based strictly on US receptions of earlier waves of Cuban refugees, it would seem that few of the new arrivals face deportation. "There have been no large numbers expelled in the past," Mr. Joy acknowledged with a smile at a press conference.
But privately, INS officials admit to confusion. No federal guidelines have been issued, for example, under the new refugee act which recently went into effect. And there seems to be little communication between the White House and regional INs officials who will make the decisions about who stays.
In late April, Miami INS director Richard Norris reportedly said some of the Cubans may be classified as "economic" refugees -- a classification given to almost of the Haitians. These Haitians face deportation.
Earlier this month, President Carter spoke of welcoming the refugees with "open arms." Since then, White House press secretary Jody Powell has said that some of the refugees without relatives in the US "may not be allowed to stay." On May 14, President Carter said some criminals had been detected among the refugees. He said the US government "will not permit our country to be used as a dumping ground."
PResident Cartet mentioned only 400 criminals. These, according to INS officials here, are suspected of having commited theft, murder, prostitution, or other offenses in Cuba. But some 40 percent of the refugees here (at "Camp Liberty" where refugees requiring more thorough investigation are sent) have admitted some criminal background, Mr. Joy told the Monitor. Include in this group are persons jailed for several years for stealing bananas or chickens.