In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Deportation for old crime hurts Ohio family

Out of the dusty annals of immigration history a forgotten chapter has reappeared: the deportation to Cuba of Mariel refugees who at some point in their lives committed a crime.

Only this time, the story doesn’t unfold here — as it did with the unruly 1980 boatlift that brought 125,000 Cubans to South Florida in five months — but in Middle America: A home in Columbus, Ohio, where a 4-year-old boy frequently asks his mother, “Where’s daddy?”

Yuneqca Bryant, a 35-year-old nurse, explains as simply as she can why the boy’s father — after living for 33 years in the U.S. — was deported to Cuba last month.

“I tell him, ‘Everybody has rules and daddy at some point in his life, he didn’t follow the rules,’ and I take out a map and show him, ‘We are here in the United States and he’s back to where he was born, in Cuba.’”

Then the little boy, who before the deportation had the benefit of an at-home, full-time father, asks: Can we go and visit him? Can we write to him?

Bryant has no answers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities deported Marcos Díaz Hernández, 54, leaving three American children without their father and his American wife without information.

“This was like a bomb coming out of nowhere,” Bryant tells me.

The crime for which Díaz was deported happened in 1984, four years after Díaz arrived alone at 21.

He took part in an armed robbery in Florida, was convicted of various felony counts and was sentenced to four years in prison.

After that, nothing else shows up in records.

His wife says he had fallen behind on child support payments to an 8-year-old daughter from a previous relationship — but he had caught up and fought the mother successfully for visitation rights.

When ICE came calling, Bryant said, Díaz had just had a good visit with his daughter and the two talked about meeting her half-siblings.

I asked an ICE official the reason Díaz came to their attention, but all I got was this: “At the time of his removal, his name was on the Cuban Repatriation list. … We’re very limited in the amount of information we can discuss in these cases.”

Neither the passage of time, nor rehabilitation, nor family ties seem to matter to ICE, which has churned out record deportations under the Obama administration, and which now seems to have resuscitated the list of 2,746 deportable Mariel Cubans, of whom all but 502 have been returned to Cuba.

While I can’t disagree that immigrants who commit serious crimes forfeit rights to residency and should be deported, it’s inhumane to deliver such harsh punishment 25 years after someone has served his time and is living lawfully.

What good could it possibly do the country to take a father away from those three children?

Whatever moral flaw landed Díaz in jail in his 20s, he was now a good, involved father beloved by his family, his wife said, and for her a much-needed partner in life.

But the stigma of Mariel lives on, and this time, the sting is being felt in the Ohio home of an American family who lost a dad.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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