At least 172 Cuban nationals who tried to enter the United States following the end to an immigration policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” are now in detention facilities, awaiting for the results of their removal proceedings, federal agencies have confirmed.
Exactly where they are being held was not revealed.
“Since January 14, there has been an increase of 172 Cuban nationals in ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detention,” an ICE official said.
The official also said that two people had already been “removed” to Cuba but did not clarify whether they are the same two Cuban rafters that a Coast Guard spokeswoman said had been intercepted since the end of wet foot, dry foot.
The fact that only two Cubans have been interdicted by the Coast Guard since the end of the policy demonstrates how effective the change, implemented by former President Barack Obama, has been in stemming the flow of Cuban migrants.
In January 2016, a total of 3,846 Cubans arrived without a visa to the United States. But from Jan. 12-31 of this year, only 426 Cubans were considered “inadmissible” by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at several ports of entry, according to a CBP spokeswoman.
Most of these “inadmissable” Cubans arrived in Miami (111) or Laredo (279) on the U.S.-Mexico border.
During the same period, 1,400 Cubans were legally admitted, according to figures obtained by el Nuevo Herald.
For many years, Cubans who arrived in the United States without a visa and asked to stay were not afraid of being detained. All that ended on Jan. 12 when, in the spirit of normalizing relations with Cuba, the Obama administration eliminated the controversial wet foot, dry foot policy, which allowed most Cubans who made to U.S. soil to stay.
Those “inadmissible” Cubans who arrived after the change of policy “are either entered into removal proceedings or given the opportunity to withdraw their application” and voluntarily leave the U.S., the CBP spokesperson said.
An ICE source confirmed that there have not been deportations of Cubans from Miami as of yet.
CBP, ICE and Citizenship and Immigration Services declined to say if those 172 Cuban detainees had requested asylum, although a CBP source said that about half of the 426 “inadmissibles” had expressed fear of returning to Cuba and have begun the process of applying for asylum to avoid being removed.
Immigration proceedings for at least one couple detained in Miami and Broward have begun.
The hearing to introduce an asylum petition on behalf of Aquilino Caraballo and Georgina Hernández, 67 and 64, took place on Monday at the Krome detention center where Caraballo is being detained. His wife, Hernández is at Broward detention center, known by the acronym BTC.
They are the parents of a Hialeah resident Geidy Caraballo whom the couple had visited six times but were taken into custody upon arrival at Miami International Airport after apparently telling an immigration officer that they “wanted to stay.”
According to his lawyer, Wilfredo Allen, the couple will face trial on March 10, which in his opinion is quite “fast” for these types of cases. They will continue to be detained while the process evolves, a procedure authorities might follow from now on, he added.
An executive order signed by President Donald Trump established “the detention of aliens apprehended for violations of immigration law pending the outcome of their removal proceedings or their removal from the country.”
What happens in these hearings will be critical for the future of many Cubans who are still stranded in Mexico or other countries and are pondering their limited options, including the request for political asylum in the U.S.
In the meantime, the possibility that Trump restores the wet foot, dry foot policy seems ever more remote, despite the circulation of false news reports making the rounds on social networks. On Thursday in Miami, Rep. Carlos Curbelo R-FL said that the end of the special treatment for Cubans was inevitable.
“We knew that the policy had many shortcomings,” he said. “We didn't think that the Obama White House would act so unexpectedly, at the last minute, but I think that everyone recognized that the policy was causing a difficult situation here in the United States and in Cuba.”
El Nuevo Herald reporters Alfonso Chardy and Abel Fernández contributed to this story.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres