Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Life-and-death plea not good enough for visa, but try again next year


The U.S. Consular office in Havana rejected Gervasio Garcia Suarez’s request for a non-immigrant visa. But not to worry. There’s always next year.

“This is not a permanent ineligibility,” the consular’s office explains, answering an inquiry from U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s office. “An applicant refused under Section 214(b) may reapply at any time although we recommend that denied applicants wait until their personal circumstances have significantly changed before reapplying.”

The letter, dated Jan. 25, suggests that “in many cases, that will be one year from the date of their most recent refusal.”

Indeed, a year from now, the circumstances that prompted Garcia Suarez’s visa application will have changed significantly. By then, his brother Felix, 55, in desperate need of a blood stem cell transplant from his sibling back in Havana, will likely be dead.

Felix Garcia of Miami was diagnosed in July with myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood marrow disorder likely to progress to acute myeloid leukemia without the transplant.

His survival depends on his sibling’s stem cells. “This is a life saving procedure for Mr. Felix Garcia,” attested a letter attached to Gervasio’s visa application from Dr. Lazaros Lekakis of the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Not good enough. The rejection letter explained that Section 214(b) of U.S. visa regulations “explicitly presumes every visitor visa applicant to be an intending immigrant.” Gervasio, 65, a health center administrator in Havana where he lives with his wife and children, apparently failed to “demonstrate sufficient ties to Cuba.” He failed to disprove “immigrant intent.”

So Felix, who was told in July that he had maybe a year to live without the procedure, has been given what amounts to a death sentence by an inscrutable consular bureaucracy. He appealed for help from Ros-Lehtinen, but her office’s inquiry only produced the reference to Section 214(b) and “immigrant intent.”

Felix’s friend, Rodolfo Nuñez, a Coral Gables commercial litigation lawyer, told me that the only option left seems to be for Gervasio to try for a humanitarian visa. “The approval might take up to four months, which Felix just does not have.”

“This is crazy,” said Nuñez. And even crazier considering that 43,159 Cubans were allowed to enter the U.S. over the last fiscal year without bothering with visas, humanitarian or otherwise. Section 214(b) be damned.

Felix, a Miami air conditioning technician, came over from Cuba himself in 1996 after a harrowing five-day voyage on a makeshift raft. He has a wife, Maria, and two sons living in Miami, Felix Jr., 31, and Brian, 11.

Last year, he experienced waves of weariness and noticed inexplicable bruises across his body. That led to a dire diagnosis, except for the one hopeful possibility: a blood stem cell transplant. A potentially miraculous treatment, if it wasn’t for the obtuse strictures of Section 214(b).

The rejection letter noted, “We recognize the humanitarian aspects to this case” — which only adds to Nunez’s frustration. “I’ve never heard life and death referred to that way. Apparently, life and death was insufficient.”