Three decades after Mariel Boatlift repatriations continue

It was still dark when federal agents knocked on the door of a residence in Columbus, Ohio, on an early January morning.

They told Yuneqca Bryant that they were looking for her husband, Marcos Diaz Hernandez, a Cuban exile who arrived during the 1980 Mariel boatlift.

Diaz was not home, so the agents told Bryant to tell her husband to report to immigration authorities as soon as he returned so they could place an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle.

After Diaz returned home, he promptly went to the nearest U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office where he was placed in detention.

Today Diaz, 54, is back in Havana after being deported last month. His name was on a repatriation list of 2,746 Cubans who either had criminal records in Cuba or ran afoul of the law after arriving in the United States.

President Reagan and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro agreed on the list in 1984, and every year since then, small groups of Cubans who arrived during the boatlift are deported.

Currently there are 502 names left on the list, ICE said recently in a statement.

This means that it may take another four or five years before ICE works through all the names on the list.

On average, about 90 to 100 Cubans on the list have been deported every year.

Bryant said her husband had a criminal record related to a robbery case a year after he arrived in Florida.

The Diaz deportation provides a glimpse into how ICE officials remove some of the names on the repatriation list.

ICE officers who put Diaz in detention told him that within 30 days he would be back in Cuba, Bryant said. But at the end of 30 days, Diaz was still in the United States.

Bryant, 35, said officials at first told her husband that Cuba would not take him back, so he would be released after 90 days.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Diaz was moved around to various detention facilities and eventually wound up at Krome detention center in west Miami-Dade County.

He was deported to Cuba from Krome on Aug. 7.

Bryant said she has been unable to talk to her husband since he was sent to Cuba.

“I don’t have a phone number where I can reach him and he has not been able to call me,” she said in a telephone interview last week from her home in Columbus.

Bryant had an address in Havana for Diaz’s mother and wrote her a letter. She did not get a response.

“I don’t know where he is in Cuba,” said Bryant. “I’ve lost contact with him.”

Besides his wife, Diaz also left behind their two young children — a son, 3, and a daughter, 1 — as well as an 8-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.

During the Mariel exodus more than 125,000 Cubans arrived aboard exile boats that flocked to the port of Mariel to pick up relatives and friends but sometimes left with whomever Cuban authorities decided to put aboard.

Among them were some criminals who went straight from jail to the port.

The Reagan administration pressed the Castro government to allow the deportation of Mariel arrivals with criminal records, resulting in the agreement that led to the repatriation list.

After the so-called rafter exodus in 1994, the United States and Cuba reached another migration agreement under which Washington promised to issue at least 20,000 visas annually to Cuban who wanted to emigrate to the United States and Havana agreed to accept the repatriation of Cubans intercepted on the high seas as they tried to make their way to the United States.

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