U.S. will maintain the family reunification program for Cubans

Yaney Cajigal and Dalwin Valdés wrap themselves in U.S. and Cuban flags as they wait for the arrival of an American cruise ship to arrive in Havana in 2016.
Yaney Cajigal and Dalwin Valdés wrap themselves in U.S. and Cuban flags as they wait for the arrival of an American cruise ship to arrive in Havana in 2016. AP

The United States will maintain the family reunification program in Cuba but has not yet offered more details on how the process will be carried out following the suspension of all visa processing at its embassy in Havana.

“The State Department will work with its colleagues in the Department of Homeland Security to ensure continued operation of the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program, and the refugee processing center,” the U.S. embassy in Havana said. “The State Department will soon announce arrangements for immigrant visa, Cuban Family Reunification Program (CFRP), and refugee applicants.”

Maintaining these programs is key to compliance with the immigration agreements signed in 1994, which commit Washington to issue 20,000 immigrant visas every year to Cubans on the island.

“The United States met the commitment to issue 20,000 travel documents for fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2016,” a State Department official told el Nuevo Herald. “That commitment is met through the issuance of immigrant visas and parole documents by the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security are currently exploring ways to ensure that we continue to meet that commitment.”

The United States government recently withdrew its non-essential personnel from its embassy in Havana and warned its citizens not to travel to the island, after claiming that 22 members of its diplomatic staff in Havana suffered attacks that have caused hearing loss and other symptoms.

On Thursday, the Associated Press released audio of the sound allegedly used to carry out the attacks.

The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some U.S. embassy workers heard in Havana as they were attacked by what investigators initially believed was a sonic weapon.

The U.S. government also banned the accommodation of its officials at the Capri hotel and the renowned Hotel Nacional in Havana, where some of the attacks allegedly occurred. Experts are puzzled with the case and cannot name a technology that could cause the variety of reported symptoms. The United States has been unable to identify who or what is causing the attacks.

Cuba has denied any responsibility and has questioned whether there have been any attacks against diplomats in its territory.

As diplomatic relations have suffered a severe blow, Washington's efforts to protect its personnel have virtually paralyzed travel by Cubans to the United States. All visa interview appointments have been canceled, even those of Cubans hoping to reunite with their relatives in the United States.

There are currently 106,351 Cubans on the waiting list for immigrant visas.

Relatives of these Cubans in the U.S. have organized a Facebook group — Cubans in Reunification — and have issued a request on to the State Department to maintain the program.

“We condemn these attacks. The Government of Cuba has responsibility for the safety and well-being of diplomats and family members. Our sentiments are with the victims of these unacceptable attacks,” says the petition with more than 350 signatures. “Our families have been divided for years while waiting for the lawful reunification process. We are also victims of these attacks,” the petition added.

“We need our efforts for consular procedures to resume to be known,” Marietta Medialdea said in an email to el Nuevo Herald. “We are many parents who are without our children.”

Medialdea arrived in the United States in 2014 and applied to bring her son Jorge Kevin Diaz to the U.S. through the reunification program. Diaz turned 15 on Sunday and his mother worries that the process will be delayed and that the teenager will reach the age required to enter military service on the island, which is mandatory.

“My son turned 15 without his parents, and when I called him, he said that it made no sense to celebrate alone. Every day we find a dead end,” Medialdea said. “As I have read in the news, American scientists deny [that] the attacks have happened, but the attacks to the hearts of each separated Cuban family are true.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres