Alvaro Moreno, a Cuban who was among the last few undocumented island migrants to cross the Mexican border into the United States shortly before President Barack Obama ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, reached his ultimate goal late Saturday afternoon: his family’s home in Hialeah.
“What saved me from not getting stranded in Mexico after the policy changed was that I slept on the international bridge between the two countries,” Moreno, 29, said in an interview soon after arriving at his relatives’ home. He’d made a two-day road trip from Laredo, Texas, aboard a van that he and other Cuban migrants leased after they reached the U.S. side of the border before sunrise Thursday.
The arrival in Hialeah marked the end of a long journey that began in early December when Moreno left his hometown of Guantánamo near the U.S. Navy base on the eastern tip of Cuba. From the start, his goal was to make it to Hialeah, where his cousin Horacio Wilson lives with his family — all of whom welcomed Moreno with hugs, kisses and screams of joy. For Wilson, it was the first time he has seen Moreno since he was 3.
Moreno and other Cubans who slept on the international bridge between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, managed to enter the United States at 2 a.m. Thursday, only hours before the surprise revocation of the policy that for years accorded preferential treatment to undocumented Cuban migrants. The new policy, which treats undocumented Cubans like other undocumented foreign nationals, went into effect Thursday afternoon. Now, Cubans who show up on U.S. soil without visas are subject to deportation.
By the time the new policy was announced, Moreno and his companions were already in the U.S. and in the process of arranging transportation to Hialeah and other cities along the way. Other Cubans were dropped in Houston, Tampa and West Palm Beach.
Moreno said that he and 10 other Cubans left the island on Dec. 3. He said that eventually, seven of the original group reached the international border bridge, but that only two of the seven managed to cross into the United States.
The original group traveled first by plane to Guyana on the northeastern shoulder of South America. Then they traveled by boat to Venezuela, and then by bus to Colombia, where they crossed to Panama by foot and on horseback.
Every time they crossed a border, they had to pay guides or bribes to the authorities to let them pass. While in Panama, they were able to cross relatively quickly to Costa Rica and then to Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
In Tapachula, a Mexican city across from the Guatemalan border, Moreno and the other Cubans were detained by immigration officials for eight days. When they were released, they were given a safe-conduct pass that allowed them to reach the U.S. border. They took a plane to Mexico City, then another flight to Nuevo Laredo, where they immediately went to the international bridge.
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, they arrived at the entrance to the U.S. side, but American passport control officials did not process them immediately. Moreno was given an appointment to return at 1 p.m. on Thursday.
Many of the Cubans who received appointments for Thursday afternoon decided to return to the Mexican side to sleep in a hotel. Moreno decided to stay on the bridge because “something told me not to go back to Mexico.”
At 2 a.m. Thursday, he said, a U.S. immigration official approached him and the others who stayed on the bridge and allowed them to enter the Customs and Border Protection office on the bridge, where they were processed under the prior policy. They all got documents known as paroles that will allow them to apply for permanent residence after more than a year in the country and then citizenship.
“Fifteen of us on the bridge were fortunate enough to be able to enter the United States,” Moreno said. “Had I gone back to sleep on the Mexican side like the others I would not be here today.”
At 8 p.m. Thursday, the group got into the leased van, which broke down in Houston. The group had to wait eight hours while the vehicle was repaired. Then it resumed its trek toward Hialeah on Friday morning.