A federal appeals court yesterday denied the government's request to stay an order requiring the release of 1,800 Haitian refugees held in immigration detention camps in six states.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said oral arguments in the government's appeal of the lower court ruling would be held at the earliest possible date.

In Miami, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service said processing of detainees for release "is moving along in normal fashion" and would have continued regardless of the ruling.

"We have been proceeding with the processing according to U.S. District Court Judge Eugene P. Spellman's order," the spokesman said. "If the government had obtained a stay, we would still have released the Haitians according to the attorney general's plan."

Full details of that plan have not been released. It has not been made clear how many Haitians would be released, under what circumstances or for how long they could remain free.

The court action came after a daylong hearing at which a top government lawyer, Associate Attorney General Rudolph Giuliani, argued for detaining the Haitians while a plan for paroling them is implemented. Release now would irreparably damage U.S. ability to control its borders, he contended.