INS begins releasing prisoners

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 11, 2001

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has begun releasing immigrants being detained in jails in Louisiana and neighboring states.

INS has released four of the approximately 1,600 detainees from jails in Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.

INS spokesperson Paige Rockett said the agency does not reveal the immigrants’ identities or the location of the jails where the prisoners were released.

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But Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell said that so far, none of the 100 or so INS prisoners detained at the Concordia Parish Correctional Facility have been released.

INS normally deports immigrant convicts. These immigrants were being held indefinitely after serving their criminal sentences because their native countries would not accept them.

The agency began releasing them after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the indefinite detentions were unconstitutional.

The prisoners are transported and released in an area where they have family or other connections, Rockett said.

Rockett said more than half of the prisoners in the five-state area are being held in Louisiana jails.

On Tuesday, the INS office in Miami said it had released 359 detainees.

Rockett said releasing the prisoners will &uot;continue at the speed of bureaucracy. I think it’s going to be a long, drawn out process.&uot;

The plight of detainees facing indefinite jail sentences received national attention in December 1999, when half a dozen Cuban inmates at the St. Martin Parish jail took the warden and several guards hostage, demanding deportation to Cuba or some other country.

The six-day standoff ended when the Cuban government agreed to accept most of the hostage takers. Many more similarly situated INS detainees were left behind, however.

Most of the detainees held indefinitely are from Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, which have no repatriation agreements with the United States.

The Supreme Court ruling said INS can keep detainees locked up no more than six months beyond their criminal sentences unless the agency can prove the prospects for deportation are good.