U.S. immigration authorities have launched a formal investigation into whether a former Cuba provincial prisons chief and his wife, now living in Miami, lied in their sworn applications for U.S. visas and residency, sources said Tuesday.
Copies of the applications filed by Crescencio Marino Rivero and Juana Ferrer were obtained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to determine whether they revealed their service in Cuba’s Interior Ministry as well as Communist Party membership.
Half a dozen former Cuban prisoners on the island and in the United States have accused Rivero of abusing them or ordering prison guards to abuse them when he was in charge of prisons in the central province of Villa Clara in the 1990s.
But the formal investigation so far focuses only on whether Rivero and Ferrer lied in two sworn U.S. forms, said an official who has direct knowledge of the case wasn’t authorized to comment publicly.
Rivero, 71, who retired from the Interior Ministry in 1996, moved to Miami with his wife about two years ago and they became residents under the Cuban Adjustment Act. He did not reply to El Nuevo Herald calls to his cell phone.
The two key immigration documents that Rivero and Ferrer had to sign under oath were an Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, and an I-485 form, titled Application to Register Residence or Adjust Status.
The I-485 form asks applicants if they have ever been a member of a Communist Party or served in “a prison, jail, prison camp, detention facility, labor camp or any other situation that involved detaining persons.” It also asks if they ever received weapons training or served in a “military unit, paramilitary unit (or) police unit.”
Replying affirmatively to those questions might have sparked further inquiries by U.S. authorities and complicated or delayed the processing of the applications by Rivero and his wife, Miami migration lawyer Santiago Alpizar said.
Most Interior Ministry members have military ranks, wear uniforms and receive weapons training. Rivero held the rank of colonel and Ferrer has been variously described as having been a captain or colonel in the ministry.
Foreigners who lie in sworn U.S. forms can be charged with perjury, and if convicted, may be subject to deportation proceedings.
Havana, however, does not accept most Cubans ordered deported from the United States.
Speaking to journalists shortly after El Nuevo Herald first reported his presence in Miami, Rivero denied the allegations of abuses but appeared to acknowledge that he had not told U.S. officials about his service in the Interior Ministry.
The visa applications submitted to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana “were done for us by a person in Santa Clara who does paperwork. At that time I had been out of the Interior Ministry 14 years, so I didn’t think it was important,” Rivero said.
As for the I-485 application, he added, “I was never asked that either. The documents for applying for the residency were filled out by an agency that does that sort of work.”
It is not known whether Rivero and his wife were also interviewed in person by U.S. immigration officials in South Florida when they filed their I-485 forms, whether they were asked key questions at that interview and whether they answered truthfully.
In an email to El Nuevo last month, Rivero said he would be willing to testify “before prosecutors, immigration or the courts, if they so request, about the legal way in which I entered this country and now reside in it.”