Miguel Romero Díaz arrived in the United States for the first time in the 1950s and stayed. He was arrested by immigration authorities in 1957 and a year later left voluntarily back to his native Cuba.
In December 1961, with Fidel Castro already in power in Havana, Romero fled the island and returned to the United States — sneaking through the Mexican border.
Since then, Romero had been living in Miami in immigration limbo — until this week when an immigration judge granted him permanent residence, according to his Coral Gables immigration attorney Eduardo Soto.
Romero is the third Cuban exile in recent years who has surfaced as an undocumented immigrant in Florida.
Florestan Ors fled to South Florida seven months after Castro seized power on Jan. 1, 1959 and never adjusted his immigration status. In 2008, Ors sought a green card but his request was rejected and the case remains open.
Mario Hernández became a U.S. citizen in 2014 in Tallahassee after living essentially as an undocumented immigrant since he arrived with his family in 1965.
People like Hernández, Ors and now Romero were able to live and work without immigration status because before the 9/11 terrorist attacks virtually no one asked about their legal status.
Legal status for Cubans is now all the more relevant because of the restoration of relations between Washington and Cuba. Many Cubans now fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act may soon be eliminated and that Cubans with deportation orders will soon be returned to the island.
Romero’s new green card, which he expects to get in the mail in a few weeks, is both a birthday gift and welcome immigration stability. Romero turns 86 next month, and the deportation fears are being fueled by the reopening Monday of embassies in Havana and Washington.
El Nuevo Herald first wrote about Romero in an article published Jan. 3, 2015 – shortly after President Obama ordered the restoration of relations with Cuba.
“My dream was to become a resident before I die,” Romero told an attorney in Soto’s office on Thursday. He did not want to be interviewed.
Romero’s last illegal entry into the United States occurred Dec. 6, 1961 at Brownsville, Tex.
“He last entered the United States by crawling under the old bridge at about 12:30 a.m. 12/6/61 in Brownsville, Texas, inside city limits, without any immigration documents and without being inspected by an immigration officer,” according to an old Immigration and Naturalization Service account of how Romero was caught at the border.
Romero was eventually released under the condition of periodic reporting his whereabouts to immigration authorities.
After working in an advertising firm in New Jersey and then in odd jobs in Miami and other cities, Romero finally contacted Soto, the Coral Gables immigration attorney, in 2004. Since then Soto had been working on Romero’s case.
“And this week we were able to successfully obtain lawful permanent residency by the immigration court,” Soto said.
Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy