Published Friday, August 6, 1999, in the Miami Herald

Suit seeks end to deportation of Cubans reaching U.S. waters

By AJOWA NZINGA IFATEYO
Herald Staff Writer

A Miami immigration attorney has filed an emergency class-action lawsuit asking that the federal government stop deporting Cuban nationals back to their homeland once they reach U.S. territorial waters.

William J. Sanchez on Thursday filed the suit in U.S. District Court on behalf of Francisco Abreu, 33, a Miami engineer who said he believes the U.S. Coast Guard and Immigration and Naturalization Service is withholding information about the status of his wife and son. He believes they left Cuba early Saturday.

The suit states Abreu's wife and son ``are believed to be on a Coast Guard cutter at this moment.''

Sanchez said those Cubans who make it to U.S. waters should be treated no differently -- and have the same rights -- as those who make it to land.

Those rights: appearance before an immigration judge, the right to an attorney and the right to contact family members, he said.

Named in the suit: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner; Florida INS Director Robert Wallis; U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno; the U.S. Coast Guard; and the Department of Justice.

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Jeff Murphy said the agency had not been served and could not comment. The INS and State Department could not be reached for comment.

Abreu said sometime late Friday, July 30, or early Saturday, his 30-year-old wife Liset Llerena and his 4-year-old son Franco Abreu left Caibarien, Cuba, on a boat with about 20 other passengers.

Under an agreement signed with Cuba, the United States has agreed to deport anyone caught within its 12-mile territorial waters.

Copyright 1999 Miami Herald