Miami organization helps newly arrived Cubans with no family support

Reinaldo Favier Vegas, left, Reynaldo Favier Cobas, center and Sandy Riguera Guillén.
Reinaldo Favier Vegas, left, Reynaldo Favier Cobas, center and Sandy Riguera Guillén.

Reynaldo Favier Cobas and his son left Cuba for Ecuador on Sept. 30 and by early November both were on their way to the United States.

As a result, Cobas and his son — Reinaldo Favier Vega — managed to avoid the stranded Cuban refugee crisis in Central America and were able to enter the United States through the Mexican border without any problems.

Trouble came when the men arrived in Miami where they have no relatives and therefore could find no place to stay. They might have wound up sleeping on the street had Alicia García of Foundation Exodus 94 not stepped in to help them. The group has has emerged as a veritable rescue group in Miami for the growing number of Cuban immigrants who have no relatives here and shelter.

With the number of Cubans arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border without visas growing, in the aftermath of last year’s diplomatic thaw between the United States and Cuba, the number of Cubans who have no relatives in Miami coming across the border is also increasing.

During fiscal year 2015, which ran from Oct. 1, 2014 to Sept. 30, 2015, almost 41,000 Cubans arrived in the United States — without visas — the largest annual number of island migrants without visas to arrive in the country in more than10 years. Most of these Cubans, almost 31,000, came across the Mexican border — while the rest arrived on rafts and boats or at international airports.

One of the Cubans assisted by Alicia Garcia and interviewed Thursday, along with Coba sand his son, had arrived at Miami International Airport (MIA) on a flight from the Bahamas. Sandy Riguera Guillén arrived last month after flying from Havana to Freeport in the Bahamas where he boarded another plane to MIA.

Cobas, 44, and his 22-year-old son, Reinaldo Favier Vega, left Cuba for Ecuador on Sept. 30.

After 20 days in Ecuador, Cobas and his son began their long journey to the United States.

They said they initially had no plans to travel to the U.S. Their original plan, they said, was to buy clothing and other items in Ecuador and then return to Cuba and resell them.

But while in Ecuador, they learned from other Cubans that they were headed to the U.S. border and decided to join them. Cobas said he decided to make the trip with his son to give him a better chance in life in the United States.

“I saw no future for him in Cuba," he said.

They first traveled overland to neighboring Colombia where they hired a boat to take them to Panama. There they hopped on a series of buses through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala until they reached Mexico.

Once in Tapachula, a Mexican city on the border with Guatemala, they boarded a plane to Mexico City where they transferred to a flight for Reynosa, on the Texas border. From there they crossed into the United States. They finally reached Miami on Nov. 7.

This means that, by only a few days, Cobas and his son were spared being caught up in the Central American Cuban refugee crisis that has stranded thousands of island migrants in Costa Rica.

The crisis began after Costa Rican authorities dismantled a migrant trafficking network in a raid Nov. 10. The problem then moved to the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua when Nicaraguan authorities prevented Cubans from crossing the border.

Meanwhile, Riguera Guillen, 20, boarded a plane to Freeport in the Bahamas on Nov. 3. There he boarded another plane that brought him directly to MIA.

“I arrived as a tourist,” said Riguera Guillén, who carried a Spanish passport since his father was from Spain. “When I got to migration at the Miami airport I asked for political asylum.”

Riguera Guillen said after spending several hours at passport control, MIA immigration officials released him with a parole document that allows him to seek permanent residence after more than a year in the country.

Like Cobas and his son, Riguera Guillén also does not have family in Miami, but a friend let him stay at his house for one night the day he arrived.

Riguera Guillen then linked up with eight other Cubans who also had no relatives in Miami, and eventually the group located Alicia García, the Foundation Exodus 94 leader, who took them to a shelter.

The three Cubans interviewed for this story were staying at the Coral Park Baptist church at the corner of SW 87th Avenue and 16th Street.

Garcia said that since last year, her organization has assisted more than 500 Cubans who have been unable to find shelter after arriving in Miami. So far this month, she said, she has assisted more than 30 homeless Cuban migrants.

García said her group was now trying to set up a permanent shelter for homeless Cuban migrants, and asked the Cuban community to help with donations of money and items.

“We need bunk beds, bed sheets, towels and other items,” she said.

People interested in donating to her organization can contact García at 305-354-0982.

Alfonso Chardy: 305-376-3435, @AlfonsoChardy