A grave silence hung over the office of the program for immigrants and refugees of Church World Service, the resettlement agency in Doral that helps Cubans and other immigrants begin their new life in the United States.
Those who went to the office on Friday morning, most of them Cubans, could not contain their sense of grief and and rejection brought on by President Barack Obama's sudden move to end the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which up until Thursday allowed most Cubans who made it onto U.S. soil to stay and apply for permanent residency after a year and a day.
“Obama has totally ignored the long history of the Cuban people,” Mario, who declined to give his last name, said as he clung to a small gray suitcase that contained the only belongings left after a 60-day journey to the United States.
Mario, a psychologist from the central city of Villa Clara, said that given the government’s tight control over the island, Obama’s end to the immigration policy ignores the fact that Cubans cannot openly oppose the Raúl Castro regime.
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“The only path [a Cuban] can find is to leave; they either risk their lives in the Florida Straits or come as I did, stumbling, from Ecuador,” he said.
Mario left Cuba at the end of 2014 and spent two years in Ecuador. He worked and raised money to make the journey to the United States. He tried to get a tourist visa for Mexico, but when he was rejected at the embassy, he ventured on foot.
“I had to come through all of Central America and I went through the Darién jungle... I entered through Matamoros [Mexico] on December 20,” said the Cuban, who added that he had just arrived in South Florida with no money. He said his savings — $ 4,000 — was spent on the way.
His opinion was echoed by other Cubans in the waiting room of the organization.
“In Cuba, there is no life,” said a woman, who did not want to be identified and who has been in the U.S. for one year.
Another man said he empathized with all those who are now trapped on the island. “You have to put yourself in their shoes,” he said.
Follow Johanna A. Álvarez on Twitter: @jalvarez8.