Dozens of Cuban families in South Florida waiting for relatives without visas to arrive by land, air or sea were still trying to sort out what the abrupt change in immigration policy would mean for their loved ones.
Many tried frantically to get in touch with their relatives by phone or waited anxiously for more than 24 hours to see if relatives would get through.
Among the lingering questions to the end of the so-called wet foot, dry foot policy: What will happen to those who are stranded? Can Cubans still apply to the Cuban Adjustment Act?
At Miami International Airport, more than a dozen families who were waiting for relatives scheduled to arrive at MIA from Cuba on Thursday, were still waiting for them to come out of the international terminal on Friday.
Little information was available and some relatives said as many as 300 Cubans were stuck inside.
“No one is giving us families information,” said Lizette Linares, who had been waiting for more than 24 hours for her 24-year-old cousin. “We don't know what's going on.”
Some of the Cuban passengers managed to get in touch with waiting relatives by sneaking cell phones inside bathroom stalls to give them an update.Her cousin, Javier Rodriguez Ayala, flew to Miami from Santa Clara on a tourist visa, but intends to stay. He arrived just before Obama on Thursday announced the immediate end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.
The announcement prompted an almost immediate halt of entries for Cubans at the U.S.-Mexico border, but the situation was less clear at MIA on Friday.
South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said her office was informed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that any Cuban national who arrived prior to Thursday’s announcement would be processed under the policy in place at that time.
“Further, CBP assured us individuals detained for processing would receive food and water and are allowed to contact family members,” Lehtinen said.
Just before 1. p.m., a family of three that arrived at the airport at 7 p.m. Thursday finally came out through the glass doors of international arrivals Terminal D.
The father, Osvaldo, who declined to give his last name, said he had been denied permanent entry into the U.S. He agreed to enter the country as a visitor, but he was offered political asylum, if he wished to apply. As a Spanish citizen, he doubted he'd be granted asylum, Osvaldo said.
At least 25 to 50 others were still inside waiting to be processed, he said.
Among those was 83-year-old Pablo Borrega's son, Juan Faustino Borrego, who arrived at MIA on a flight from Havana at 10:45 a.m. Thursday.
The younger Borrego, 56, called his father Friday morning to tell him he should be coming out soon, but by noon, Pablo Borrego was still waiting from a seat in front of the arrival doors.
His son arrived before the change in the policy, Borrego said, so he hoped he would be granted parole into the U.S.
As the day wore on, it seemed less likely Juan Faustino Borrego would be given entry into the U.S., even though he arrived before the policy changed.
Then, a phone call from Juan Faustino Borrego from inside the terminal came: “You told them you have a visa for five years?,” his father asked. “They told you they were going to deport you?”
Borrego's face fell. Then he put the phone on speaker.
“Now they're telling us we aren't getting parole because they have an order and they are going to take [the policy] off,” Faustino Borrego said.
Then a person is heard on the call screaming at Faustino Borrego. The call dropped.
“I knew something was going on,” Borrego said.
Confusion on the border
Dalia González, 58, who has been living in Miami for 11 years, said her nephew, Raúl González, 28, was stranded on the Mexican border.
“I do not know what to do. I’m desperate. We have not slept at all last night,” she said Friday.
González is trying to send money to her nephew so he can find a place to stay in Mexico. He has an employment contract in Mexico, and although he still hopes to reach the U.S. and become a permanent resident, he does not know how.
“Who was going to expect that all of a sudden they would come up with this news?” said Midamis Martínez Cruz, 37, of Miami.
Her brother, Dennis Pupo Cruz, a 30-year-old from Havana, is on the Mexican side of the bridge that connects Nuevo Laredo in Mexico with Texas in the United States. Pupo Cruz left Cuba for Guyana, then crossed several Central American countries until he reached the U.S. border. He has a travel permit for 20 days granted by the Mexican government.
He arrived at the bridge over the Rio Grande around 6 p.m. Thursday, but the border agents did not allow him to enter. He was told that he could apply for political asylum.
“But if we do that, we'll be detained. We do not know what to do yet,” Pupo Cruz said Friday. He does not want to return to Cuba.
Two years ago, his sister, Martínez Cruz, made a similar journey: she left Cuba for Ecuador, which did not require a visa for entry, and crossed several countries heading north until arriving in the United States. At the border, under the wet foot, dry foot policy, she was granted parole within a day of arrival. A year and a day later, she got her Green Card as stipulated by the Cuban Adjustment Act.
“After risking your life on so many borders, who wants to return to Cuba and continue in the same prison?” Martínez Cruz said.
Other Cubans who arrived earlier in Nuevo Laredo on Thursday didn’t suffer the same fate.
“God put his hand,” said Alvaro Moreno, from Guantánamo, who was one of the last Cubans to be admitted to the United States on Thursday.
He had arrived at the border in Nuevo Laredo Wednesday around 6 p.m. The office was packed and he was scheduled for a 1 p.m. appointment Thursday, but decided to stay to sleep on the bridge.
Around 2 a.m., Border Patrol agents “gathered those of us who were there.” About four hours later, he was allowed entry into the U.S.
“I feel joy for myself, but the sadness that I have for the others dampens that joy,” said Moreno, who traveled for a month and eight days from Guyana along with 11 other Cubans. Only two managed to enter.
“They are Cubans just like me who sold their houses; they lost everything during the journey,” Moreno said over the phone as he headed to Florida in a van with 15 other Cubans. All had received parole on Thursday and were to meet with their relatives.
“Some will stay in Tampa, others in West Palm Beach and others in Miami,” said Israel Portuondo, driver of the vehicle carrying them.
The Cubans had hoped to arrive in Miami on Friday, but the van broke between Laredo and Houston, and they had to wait for a replacement, Portuondo said.
Moreno's uncle, 54-year-old Horacio Wilson, a resident of Hialeah, said he was looking forward to his nephew's arrival, but that “although he [Moreno] was lucky enough to fulfill his dream,” the president's move was “something disastrous for those in transit [to the U.S.].”
“They erased their dreams with a single stroke,” Wilson said.
Hope at the airport
In Miami, Friday evening saw the end of 31 hours of uncertainty for at least two Cuban families.
Just after 6:15 p.m., the Linares family's cousin, Rodríguez Ayala, passed out of immigration and into MIA's terminal D to the welcoming shouts of relief of his family.
"Thanks to them, I'm here," Rodríguez Ayala said.
Shortly after, Borrego's dad surprised him from behind.
“Papi?” he said, before embracing him. Pablo Borrego, who had kept his composure all day, broke into sobs.
“This means the world to me,” the elder Borrego said. “It was many hours of desperation.”
Miami Herald staff Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report from Miami and McClatchy correspondent Franco Ordoñez from Laredo.