The federal government, though acting reasonably in considering freedom and U.S. residency for several thousand Cubans detained since their 1980 arrival, is in a no-win situation.

Whatever action it takes, whether proceeding in what one side says is a foot-dragging manner, or in accelerating the screening-and-release, it is criticized.A faster review of 3,800 detainees - among 125,OOO arriving in 1980 - was part of an agreement to end rioting five months ago at two federal penitentiaries.

Certainly, the government has kept its promise on that count. In the five months since the protest riots, 1,153 detainees - 10 times more than were freed the previous five months - have been released. Most have gone to live with family sponsors or been sent to halfway houses as a step toward freedom.

Catholic Bishop Augustin Roman of Miami, who helped end the prison riots, members of volunteer groups helping the detainees, and some members of Congress want the process replaced with something they say would be fairer.

The current pace of review and release, however, has been defended by Justice Department officials.

These aren't simply people of a foreign land wanting to establish homes in the United States and being denied. They have, after all, been convicted of crimes in the U.S. and deemed deportable. But they have been sent to prison instead, with hope of possible release in the U.S. A few, understandably, have been deported.

Clearly, the screening-and-release process must be thorough, and as a result, is time consuming. But, complaints notwithstanding, the government must not yield to pressure for release of these people without that thorough approach.

Even some supporters of the Cuban detainees have warned that the pace of release might be too fast, and be blind to the inability of many of the Cubans to succeed in society.

The government's plan undoubtedly is not perfect, but as long as some are is saying "too slow," and others, "too fast," it is a good sign that the release program is acceptably in the middle of the road.