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Clinton Weighs U.S. Entry for Cuban Children


WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration is considering allowing thousands of Cuban children and their families who are now detained at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to enter the United States, officials said Monday.

The move would mark a reversal of President Clinton's policy against granting asylum to Cubans who fled their homeland on rafts and makeshift boats this summer.

A trickle of Cubans have arrived in Miami in recent weeks as the Administration quietly permitted several dozen children and elderly and infirm refugees to enter this country under humanitarian exceptions to the existing policy.

But the proposed policy, which could be adopted within days, would allow as many as a third of the 23,390 Cubans at Guantanamo into the United States.

The release would apply to about 3,000 Cuban children younger than 17 and their family members and caretakers at the camps. Most are expected to settle permanently in the Miami area, Administration officials said.

Clinton and Atty. Gen. Janet Reno announced in August that the rafters would be detained indefinitely at Guantanamo and would have no hope of entering the United States legally. This reversal of a longstanding open-door policy for Cuban immigrants came in response to a mass exodus from the island after Cuban President Fidel Castro lifted restrictions on emigrating. Castro has since reimposed the restrictions.

But Cuban American groups have protested the no-entry policy and complained of the inhumane conditions in the camps, saying they are particularly hard on children and the elderly.

The Administration is also looking toward the first Summit of the Americas, a meeting of Latin American leaders planned for Dec. 9-11 in Miami. There are concerns that Cuban Americans will stage large protests during the summit.

Manuel Vazquez, a Cuban American lawyer in Miami who has sued the Administration over the detention policy, said there is virtually no opposition among Cuban American groups to allowing the refugees into the United States.

He also said that conditions are worsening in the camps, and many Cubans in this country are angry about the Administration's policy and plan to protest noisily at the 30-nation summit.

"This summit is fast approaching, and the government wants a quiet, successful summit and not a lot of people demonstrating," Vazquez said.

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