Category Archives: Immigration

Cuban migration at sea has plummeted since Obama ended ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy, top Coast Guard officer says

The Washington Post

The Coast Guard’s top officer said Wednesday that the number of migrants intercepted at sea by his service off the coast of Florida has plummeted since January, largely a symptom of President Barack Obama ending the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy with Cuba a week before he left office.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, said the sea service has intercepted fewer than 100 migrants since the Jan. 12 announcement, after detaining more than 10,000 migrants off the coast of Florida in 2016. The policy generally allowed Cubans who made it to American soil to pursue legal residency but was eliminated following Obama’s decision to restore relations with Cuba for the first time since 1961.

The policy, established by President Bill Clinton, for years gave Cubans hope that if they could make the 90-mile trip by sea, they could become Americans. But many of them did so in makeshift craft that capsized or sunk, creating crises at sea. If they did not make it all the way to Florida, U.S. authorities typically detained and returned them to their homeland.

Zukunft said Obama’s decision has curtailed the number of dangerous situations the Coast Guard saw in the region, especially when migrants did something rash in an effort to make to the United States.

“I’m talking self-mutilation, self-inflicted gunshot wounds, very desperate measures so that they would be evacuated to a hospital in the United States and then be declared feet-dry and then paroled in the United States,” Zukunft said. “We would have interdictions where they would threaten to drown a baby if we were to stop them.”

The number of migrants spiked in anticipation of Obama changing the policy before he left office. Prior to his decision, the Coast Guard said it intercepted 3,376 migrants off the coast of Florida in fiscal 2014 and 2,094 in fiscal 2013. Of those 3,376 migrants, 2,059 came from Cuba, with people from Haiti and the Dominican Republican making up the bulk of the rest.

Cuban families desperately seek information on relatives who arrived on a go-fast boat

The Miami Herald

The call from Cuba ended with a sense of dread for Yandry Pérez.

His aunt warned him through the interrupted telephone call from Villa Clara, in central Cuba, that the whereabouts of his mother and two younger brothers had been unknown for two days. Some 50 Cubans fled the island last weekend aboard speedboats to Florida, even though they knew they would no longer receive preferential treatment upon arrival in the United States. The escape had been organized in absolute secrecy.

“For days, we have been waiting for news, succumbed to total uncertainty,” said Pérez, who two years ago crossed seven international borders to take advantage of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which was repealed by former President Barack Obama in the last days of his administration.

“When we saw in the news that they had caught two boats with Cubans we breathed a sigh of relief,” he said.

His mother, Marlenes Romero León, 47, along with his brothers Yusdiel and Kevin, 20 and 11, respectively, boarded the speedboat as a last resort to reunite with the rest of the family that was already in Florida. A process of reunification that had begun a few years earlier was frustrated when Romero was denied a visa to travel to the United States to reunite with the father of her children.

“On television I was able to see one of my brothers, so I know they are being detained,” said Pérez, who is desperately trying to find out where his relatives are so he can hire a lawyer to handle the case.

“We believe they can apply for political asylum. On more than one occasion they arrested my mother. They would not even allow her to go to the beach so she could not try to escape from Cuba, he said. “My brother is a child, they should at least let us take care of him.”

On Sunday, a 40-foot speedboat was intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It had more than 30 migrants aboard, five of whom ran into the mangroves in an attempt to escape authorities but were later caught.

A few hours earlier, a small boat with seven Cubans aboard was intercepted at Blackpoint Park and Marina, south of Miami-Dade. A third boat with 21 migrants was intercepted near Key Largo.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the agency could not provide any information about the case or those involved because it is part of an open investigation.

Authorities are investigating the boatmen who transported the Cubans from the island. If they prove to be human traffickers they could face severe penalties.

Family members in Florida said they did not know whether their relatives had paid for the trip, but it is known that similar trips on speedboats can cost thousands of dollars, even before the end of wet foot, dry foot, which allowed most Cubans who made it onto U.S. soil to stay.

Since news broke of the Cuban migrants’ arrival, Julio Infante, who lives in Miami, has not stopped looking for the whereabouts of his father-in-law, who allegedly traveled on one of those boats.

“I’ve been to several places but they always tell me that they cannot give information. We are desperate because we do not even know if he is alive,” Infante said.

The missing relative is Wilber Hechavarría, 46, who left his home in Las Tunas in eastern Cuba. Family members on the island called his daughter, Yoandra, in Miami, so she could keep an eye on the news.

“He wanted to be with her and leave Cuba. He always wanted to leave that country because over there, people have to steal in order to eat,” said Infante.

“My wife came from Guatemala a year ago crossing international borders. She arrived pregnant. We already have a family and we wanted her father to be with us, too,” he said.

Although the migrants knew about the end of wet foot, dry foot, they ventured across the Florida Straits with the belief that they would find some way to legalize their situation later in the U.S.

For Infante, it does not matter that the policy that facilitated the entry of Cubans to the United States is over.

“In the end, we would find a way to legalize his status or he would remain undocumented,” he said. “Either way, that would be better than staying in Cuba.”

Immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen said that Cubans who arrive on U.S. territory and do not surrender to immigration authorities not only will not have the right to avail themselves of the Cuban Adjustment Act a year and a day after arrival, but they also cannot obtain legal status even if they marry U.S. citizens.

“When a rafter or any undocumented Cuban arrives in the United States, he is obliged to appear before the authorities for processing. The migrant can apply for political asylum if he is persecuted and fears to return to Cuba,” Allen said.

If the case for migrants seeking asylum is deemed credible, they have the right to request asylum before a judge and, if granted, they could then adjust their status through the Cuban Adjustment Act, Allen said.

“If the migrant who entered the United States illegally does not present himself to the authorities, he remains undocumented and it is very difficult for him to legalize his status later,” he said. “He is subject to immediate deportation.”

US detains 172 Cuban migrants following end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy

The Miami Herald

At least 172 Cuban nationals who tried to enter the United States following the end to an immigration policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” are now in detention facilities, awaiting for the results of their removal proceedings, federal agencies have confirmed.

Exactly where they are being held was not revealed.

“Since January 14, there has been an increase of 172 Cuban nationals in ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detention,” an ICE official said.

The official also said that two people had already been “removed” to Cuba but did not clarify whether they are the same two Cuban rafters that a Coast Guard spokeswoman said had been intercepted since the end of wet foot, dry foot.

The fact that only two Cubans have been interdicted by the Coast Guard since the end of the policy demonstrates how effective the change, implemented by former President Barack Obama, has been in stemming the flow of Cuban migrants.

In January 2016, a total of 3,846 Cubans arrived without a visa to the United States. But from Jan. 12-31 of this year, only 426 Cubans were considered “inadmissible” by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at several ports of entry, according to a CBP spokeswoman.

Most of these “inadmissable” Cubans arrived in Miami (111) or Laredo (279) on the U.S.-Mexico border.

During the same period, 1,400 Cubans were legally admitted, according to figures obtained by el Nuevo Herald.

For many years, Cubans who arrived in the United States without a visa and asked to stay were not afraid of being detained. All that ended on Jan. 12 when, in the spirit of normalizing relations with Cuba, the Obama administration eliminated the controversial wet foot, dry foot policy, which allowed most Cubans who made to U.S. soil to stay.

Those “inadmissible” Cubans who arrived after the change of policy “are either entered into removal proceedings or given the opportunity to withdraw their application” and voluntarily leave the U.S., the CBP spokesperson said.

An ICE source confirmed that there have not been deportations of Cubans from Miami as of yet.

CBP, ICE and Citizenship and Immigration Services declined to say if those 172 Cuban detainees had requested asylum, although a CBP source said that about half of the 426 “inadmissibles” had expressed fear of returning to Cuba and have begun the process of applying for asylum to avoid being removed.

Immigration proceedings for at least one couple detained in Miami and Broward have begun.

The hearing to introduce an asylum petition on behalf of Aquilino Caraballo and Georgina Hernández, 67 and 64, took place on Monday at the Krome detention center where Caraballo is being detained. His wife, Hernández is at Broward detention center, known by the acronym BTC.

They are the parents of a Hialeah resident Geidy Caraballo whom the couple had visited six times but were taken into custody upon arrival at Miami International Airport after apparently telling an immigration officer that they “wanted to stay.”

According to his lawyer, Wilfredo Allen, the couple will face trial on March 10, which in his opinion is quite “fast” for these types of cases. They will continue to be detained while the process evolves, a procedure authorities might follow from now on, he added.

An executive order signed by President Donald Trump established “the detention of aliens apprehended for violations of immigration law pending the outcome of their removal proceedings or their removal from the country.”

What happens in these hearings will be critical for the future of many Cubans who are still stranded in Mexico or other countries and are pondering their limited options, including the request for political asylum in the U.S.

In the meantime, the possibility that Trump restores the wet foot, dry foot policy seems ever more remote, despite the circulation of false news reports making the rounds on social networks. On Thursday in Miami, Rep. Carlos Curbelo R-FL said that the end of the special treatment for Cubans was inevitable.

“We knew that the policy had many shortcomings,” he said. “We didn’t think that the Obama White House would act so unexpectedly, at the last minute, but I think that everyone recognized that the policy was causing a difficult situation here in the United States and in Cuba.”


Authorities rescue 10 Cubans allegedly kidnapped in Mexican border city

Cuban migrants say they prefer to try their luck through Central American than returning to Cuba

The Miami Herald

A group of 10 Cubans who had been kidnapped while traveling from Reynosa to Nuevo Laredo in Mexico were rescued Wednesday, according to a high-ranking official from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ernesto Soberón, director of consular affairs at the ministry, known as MINREX, issued a Twitter post Wednesday evening stating that the Cubans were in contact with the Cuban Consulate in Monterrey and that they were in good health.

The Cubans were reportedly kidnapped in Reynosa, across the border from Hidalgo, Texas, last week, after being stranded in Mexico following the end of the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy, which allowed entry to Cubans who made it to U.S. soil.

Several initial reports indicated that 11 Cubans had been kidnapped, including a child, but later reports said it was 10.

The kidnapping was allegedly carried out by organized crime gangs, which inspected buses where the migrants traveled. According to a relative of one of the victims who spoke to local Mexican media, the kidnappers were heavily armed.

Details of the rescue were not made public but reportedly involved negotiations. It is not known whether the Cubans or their relatives had to pay ransom or if any arrests were made in the case.

The Cubans were placed under the custody of Mexico’s immigration authorities, who then released them to the care of a nonprofit organization.

Local media reported that Héctor Silva, the director of the Casa del Migrante organization, said that all 10 wanted to return to Cuba because they “were scared.”

But Miami reporter Alejandro Condis, of Mega TV, who interviewed the Cubans, said the group did not want to return to the island and instead made their way to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. However, as they neared the border crossing, the group was detained by Mexican authorities because the documents allowing them to temporarily stay in Mexico had expired.

Condis reported that the Mexican immigration authorities gave the Cubans the option to go back to Cuba or to remain in Mexico. The group petitioned for a humanitarian visa that would allow them to stay in Mexico.


NewsBusters: Trump ‘Ban’ 57 Times More Coverage than Obama’s Cuba Ban

Breitbart NewsMainstream media networks devoted 57 times more coverage to President Donald Trump’s temporary “ban” on travel from seven terror-prone countries than they did to President Barack Obama’s permanent ban on Cuban refugees to the U.S.

That’s according to a NewsBusters investigation, which also found that “between them, ABC, CBS and NBC only spent 68 seconds during their news coverage the following morning” after Obama ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy for Cubans.

NewsBusters adds:

Both actions severely limited immigration from certain regions, but CBS This Morning and NBC’s Today hyped the Castro regime “praising” Obama’s policy decision. In contrast, the coverage of Trump’s executive order has been overwhelmingly negative, with NBC’s Today even going so far as to suggest a link between Trump’s immigration ban and a mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec, despite a complete lack of evidence.

But this wasn’t the only instance of the networks ignoring one of President Obama’s bans on refugees. It wasn’t until 2013 that ABC News reported that “State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011,” after the discovery that two al-Qaeda operatives had used the program to enter the U.S. and move to Bowling Green, Kentucky.
CBS and NBC never followed up on the story, and ABC dropped its coverage after that single day of attention.

Coverage of Obama’s rapprochement and normalization of relations with Cuba has been generally laudatory, ignoring the Cuban regime’s complete failure to make progress on democracy and human rights, while praising the diplomatic commitment of the Obama administration to back down, unilaterally.

Changes to immigration policy will not stem the Cuban exodus, those on the island say

The Miami Herald

When Washington put an end to a preferential immigration policy for Cuban migrants nearly two weeks ago, the official reasoning behind the move was to stem the flow of an increasing exodus and prompt democratic changes on the island.

Many in the exile community considered the new measure a “gift” for the Cuban government.

But looming questions remain: Will Cubans stay in their homeland or continue to flee? And is the Cuban government the real winner with this agreement?

Part of the debate was generated by the way the policy shift came about — announced through a joint statement from both governments and without warning to avoid a migratory crisis, according to Ben Rhodes, Obama’s adviser on Cuba.

Antonio Rodiles, a Cuban government opponent and one of the coordinators of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms, told el Nuevo Herald that the policy revision was “necessary” but criticized the “abrupt” way in which it was carried out. He also took issue with the fact that the announcement was made jointly with the Cuban government, with the release of a “shameful” document in which “the Cuban regime spoke of the defense of human rights and other issues in which it has been the principal violator.”

Rodiles said that the policy “had been distorted” by the Raúl Castro government itself, which constructed a narrative in which the emigres “fled for economic and not political reasons.” Many repeated that statement upon arrival in the United States to avoid conflicts with the government and to be able to return to the island, where many left behind their closest relatives.

These kinds of public declarations, along with high-profile crimes committed by some newly arrived immigrants, elicited negative opinions among the public, including Cuban exiles who arrived in earlier migration waves. Two Cuban American congressmen, Carlos Curbelo and Marco Rubio, even filed a bill to restrict Cuban immigrants’ access to federal benefits and grant them only to those who had left the island for political reasons.

Continue reading Changes to immigration policy will not stem the Cuban exodus, those on the island say

Mexico deports Cubans awaiting travel documents to try to reach the U.S

The Miami Herald

A group of 91 Cubans who were stranded in Mexico following an end to migration policy that would have allowed them entry to the United States was deported to the island Friday, the Mexican authorities announce
“In compliance with the provisions of the Migration Law, 91 Cuban nationals were sent to their country this morning from the airport in Tapachula Chiapas, after Cuban authorities issued a recognition of their nationality,” according to a statement issued by the Mexican National Institute of Migration (INM).

The group included 20 women and 71 men who, according to the INM, were waiting to obtain transit documents to continue their their journey to the U.S. border.

Yadel González Sagre, who had been in Tapachula for 19 days, was among those returned to the island. He said he and others were taken from the Siglo XXI Migrant Station early Friday.

“Suddenly they told us that they were going to deport us and they got us all out of there. It was terrible, they beat us and threatened us. Then they pushed us into buses and from there they took us directly to the airport and they have been sending us in small groups,” González said via text messages.

González said he feared returning to a life he described as “hell” in his native Havana.

“We live in a country without rights,” he said.

In its statement, the INM pointed out that Mexico’s Migration Law provides undocumented foreigners the ability to obtain transit documents that allow them to legally travel through Mexico for up to 20 days so that they can legalize their migration status to leave the country.

In the case of 91 Cubans, the Consulate General of Cuba formally recognized and agreed to take back its citizens, allowing Mexican authorities to carry out deportations, INM said.

Since the Jan. 12 end to U.S. immigration policy known as wet foot, dry foot, hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in Mexico and elsewhere in their attempt to reach the United States.

Official Statement from the Obama Administration

Statement by the President on Cuba Policy Changes

Cabinet Room

12:01 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.

In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

There’s a complicated history between the United States and Cuba. I was born in 1961 –- just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime. Over the next several decades, the relationship between our countries played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and America’s steadfast opposition to communism. We are separated by just over 90 miles. But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.

Meanwhile, the Cuban exile community in the United States made enormous contributions to our country –- in politics and business, culture and sports. Like immigrants before, Cubans helped remake America, even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind. All of this bound America and Cuba in a unique relationship, at once family and foe.

Continue reading Official Statement from the Obama Administration

BREAKING NEWS – Obama ending the wet foot dry foot policy

USA Today

The Obama administration is ending the 20-year-old “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allows most Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil to become legal permanent residents after one year.

The decision was confirmed by a congressional staffer who was briefed by the administration but was not authorized to publicly discuss the plan.

In exchange, Cuba has agreed to start accepting Cubans who have been issued a deportation order in the U.S., something they have refused to do for decades.

The decision comes as President Obama tries to cement his historic opening with the communist island and one week before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Trump has said he would renegotiate the deal with Cuba.

Families of Cuban Migrants Desperate For Answers


CBS Miami

A Coast Guard Cutter remains at sea Monday, where it’s been since Friday with 21 Cuban migrants on board.

Many of the South Floridians who believe their loved ones are on that Coast Guard vessel have turned to the attorneys at the Democracy Movement for help.

They not only want to ensure those on board will not be sent back to Cuba, they also simply want verification that their relatives survived the journey and are with the Coast Guard.

“It’s so sad because you don’t know about him, nobody can tell you anything. And they know what happened with the people,” said Hildanys Rodriguez through tears. She became emotional when talking with CBS4’s Natalia Zea about the possible worst case scenario, involving her cousin Francis Alejo.

She knows he left Cuba on a homemade boat with friends, and prays he is one of the migrants picked up five miles off of Marathon Key Friday but at this point the Coast Guard is not naming names.

“Nobody wants to give information, please I ask if somebody can help,” said Rodriguez.

Compounding Rodriguez’s fear is the knowledge that relatives in South Florida have given the Democracy Movement 38 names of those believed to have left Cuba at the same time. But the Coast Guard found only 21.

Two were found in the water near the American Shoal Lighthouse. Nineteen others made it to the lighthouse itself.

“We’re talking about persons. It’s so really hard. It’s so hard to not know what happened to your family,” said Rodriguez.

Yamilia Carril also hopes her nephew Carlos Barrios was one of the 19 migrants who swam to the federally-owned lighthouse, and are awaiting word from the federal government, whether this counts as U.S. land, under the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy.

“I’m very nervous with my nephew,” she told Zea.

Cuban exile activist Ramon Saul Sanchez says the lighthouse is clearly part of the United States.

“The lighthouse is anchored in the platform of U.S. territory. It is in U.S. waters,” said Sanchez.

Continue reading Families of Cuban Migrants Desperate For Answers