Dozens of Cubans heading for the U.S.-Mexico border say they are afraid that the caravan of Central American immigrants could block their own entry into the United States.
“We’re fleeing the Cuban regime. I don’t want to belong to the Union of Young Communists or join any marches. I don’t believe in communism and I am not interested in their politics, which is a farce,” said Eddy González, 29, by phone from the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, on the border with El Paso, Texas.
“We don’t want to arrive with the caravan. It’s simply a coincidence; the time we have the opportunity to travel,” he said. “Cubans always want to come to the United States because it is a free and truly democratic country. That’s the United States: democracy, freedom. That’s what we Cubans are looking for.”
González said there are about 60 Cubans waiting along the border to ask for asylum, and more are coming. Eloy Aguiar, a Cuban in Guatemala who is on his way to the United States, said he regrets that the hubbub about the immigrant caravan coincides with his journey to apply for political asylum.
Several dozen Cubans are with him, he said by telephone.
“I left Cuba for Guyana, taking advantage of the fact that it does not require a visa. From there, I crossed all those countries to get to Guatemala. I just hope that these people do not destroy the only means of escaping that Cubans have,” he said.
Aguiar, 35, said he does not believe the Central American immigrants face the same problems as Cubans do.
“They live in free countries. They have the possibility of working and getting ahead. Why should we be treated like them?” he asked.
González, who worked as a chef in Cuba and lived in Ecuador for two years, said he’s worried by the threats against the caravan issued by President Donald Trump. Trump vowed last week to close the border and change the process for asylum applications. He also said he would send up to 15,000 U.S. troops to the border.
“All of us immigrants are looking for the same thing: freedom. We want to get out of Communist countries that are oppressing us. Those poor Venezuelans are suffering the same that we Cubans are suffering,” said González.
Asylum applications require evidence that the applicants are persecuted, not just that they live under an authoritarian regime, according to immigration lawyers consulted by el Nuevo Herald.
“It’s not enough to be Cuban. You have to prove that your physical integrity or your life are in danger if you are returned to the country from which you are escaping,” said Miami immigration lawyer Wilfredo Allen.
“Because of the zero-tolerance policy of the current administration, many of the applicants for political asylum are being kept in detention while their cases are processed,” Allen added.
Immigration officials who process asylum applications can grant an initial parole that allows the applicants to remain free while their cases are processed, although such paroles are less and less frequent. Independent Cuban journalist Serafín Morán, for example, was detained for six months before he was granted asylum.
So many asylum applications are pending that the wait for a court hearing can take more than a year. In those cases, Cubans on parole can obtain permanent U.S. residence under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Cubans who lose asylum applications in the courts can be deported to the island.
“To qualify for the Cuban Adjustment Act you have to have a parole, a legal entry that allows you after one year to submit a request” for residence, Allen said.
The immigration possibilities for Cubans changed dramatically when former President Barack Obama ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy. For two decades, Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil had been allowed to stay.
U.S. officials deported 64 Cubans to the island in 2016, and 160 in 2017. From October 2017 to May of this year, they deported 271 Cubans, according to official figures. During that same period, at least 3,500 Cubans were turned away at the U.S. border with Mexico.
This article was updated to clarify that former President Barack Obama ended “wet foot, dry foot.”