About a dozen Cuban migrants who entered the United States recently via the Mexican border have been sleeping outdoors in Doral because a refugee assistance agency cannot relocate them or provide them with aid right away.
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The Cubans told El Nuevo Herald in separate interviews that the agency — Church World Service — offered to take them to a homeless shelter but with no firm assurance that they could find a bed. The migrants also said they were told to come back in September for individual appointments and that their chances of relocation and aid would be better then.
“We came straight here and they told us that our appointment could not take place until Sept.12,” said Edel Nocedo Zulueta, 44, who arrived in Miami a week ago after illegally crossing the border at Laredo, Texas. “They said that when the appointment takes place they will be able to tell us when they can resettle us, relocate us to another state.”
All of the Cubans interviewed by El Nuevo Herald on Thursday said they have no relatives in the country.
This is only the latest group of Cuban migrants left homeless after refugee aid agencies were unable to help them immediately. A similar group spent several days living on the streets in May.
The number of Cuban migrants coming to South Florida has steadily increased since President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba in December.
More than 18,000 Cuban migrants have arrived in the United States since Oct. 1, the start of the 2015 fiscal year — about the number for all of fiscal 2014. Though the majority of Cuban migrants arrive through the Mexican border, most wind up in South Florida.
Church World Service officials said the reason why these migrants cannot be assisted immediately is because of the larger number of Cubans showing up without visas in the United States, both on the beaches and at the Mexican border.
Oscar Rivera, director of the Church World Service office in Doral, said his office does not have resources to immediately provide services to Cuban migrants who knock on their door, especially since their assistance involves putting up people in hotels and buying plane tickets for relocation to other states.
Rivera also said that the office’s priority remains the Cuban rafters and Cuban doctors serving in foreign countries who defect and arrive under a program called Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. Church World Service also assists Cuban migrants who cross the Mexican border but when they show up, they must be given appointments so their documents can be checked and processing set up “in an orderly way,” Rivera said.
Nocedo said Church World Service officials told him they would not take care of the group right away. Since they have no relatives here or anywhere in the United States, the group decided to stay in a parking lot in the back of the Church World Service offices located in an office park in Doral at 1924 NW 84th Ave.
“They wanted to take us to a shelter, but [said] that they could not guarantee a bed for each one of us,” he said. “But at least, they said, we could take a shower and get a meal.”
Group members said they’ve been getting food from members of the Cuban community who have seen stories about their plight on local TV news programs.
“It is thanks to the goodness of these people that we have not starved,” said Juan Torres, another Cuban who recently arrived through the border at Laredo.
Torres, 55, said he was told by a Church World Service official that the agency’s priority right now is Cuban rafters who arrive at South Florida beaches, not the Cuban migrants flowing across the border.
“I got an appointment for Sept. 18 and, in the meantime, we have to sleep like a dog in the street,” Torres said. “We have our rights under the Cuban Adjustment Act and we cannot be treated like homeless people.”
Also among the homeless Cubans was a couple, Zoraida Lazara Rosabal Estevez and Daniel Diaz Aguilar, who described themselves as doctors who defected their posts in Brazil, where Havana has deployed a contingent of Cuban doctors.
Antonio Mora, another Cuban migrant, said he came with three other Cubans, all of whom crossed at Laredo. They arrived in Miami on the Fourth of July.
“We arrived here without money and without family here,” said Mora, 27. “In Cuba, it is said that the government of the United States gives asylum to the Cubans, and we came looking for asylum and we have to wait until our appointment in September. In the meantime, we have to stay here in the open.”
Doral Mayor Luigi Boria, meanwhile, said he has contacted a Miami-Dade County Commissioner, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, seeking help.
“We have to help them,” Boria said. “They recently arrived from Cuba, and we have to find a way to supply their basic needs.”
El Nuevo Herald writer Enrique Flor and El Nuevo Herald photographer Roberto Koltun contributed to this report.