Cubans: case by case

THE moratorium offered by US Attorney General Edwin Meese on the deportation of Cubans being held in federal detention centers, pending reviews of each individual case, is a welcome step. But one can only wonder that this situation has been allowed to persist this long.

Those being held are part of the 1980 Mariel boatlift from Cuba to Florida, individuals whose criminal or mental-health records in Cuba rendered them ``excludable'' from the United States. They have been granted ``immigration parole,'' which means they are at liberty until and unless they are charged with some criminal offense, whereupon they may be detained indefinitely, pending deportation. The courts have so far supported the Reagan administration in this.

About 200 Cubans were deported under a 1984 accord between the United States and Cuba, which also allowed for orderly immigration into the US of up to 27,000 Cubans per year. Cuban leader Fidel Castro suspended the accord in May 1985, however, after the US went on the air with its Radio Mart'i, a Spanish-language program beamed into Cuba.

Dr. Castro's announcement of the resumption of that accord, Radio Mart'i notwithstanding, has precipitated the two prison uprisings, in Atlanta and Oakdale, La.

The moratorium Mr. Meese has offered is contingent on a swift resolution of the two disturbances - resolution that does not at this writing appear in sight.

That the prisoners involved evidently prefer legal limbo in the United States to life in the socialist paradise of Cuba must be at least an embarrassment to the Castro regime. But the whole episode has some embarrassments for the US, too. The Reagan administration could have acted more swiftly on assuming office in 1981 to reach an accord with Castro to deport the ``excludables'' - who are really a Cuban responsibility. And although many of the detainees have records that should exclude them from the US, many do not. Indefinite detention is just not the American way. The cases of these people need a ``full, fair, and equitable'' review, as soon as possible.

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