Cubans try to enter the U.S. at a border now practically closed off to them
The Florida Democratic Party denounced Monday the deportation of Cubans from the U.S., saying the policy is keeping Cubans from attempting to come to the United States.
“We are calling out the Trump administration, and we are asking the Trump administration to reverse the policies that are impacting the Cuban American community here in Miami-Dade,” state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez said at a press conference at Miami’s Freedom Tower. “The Trump administration attempts to get rid of the asylum process as we know it is having an impact on Cubans trying to come here.”
On Friday last week, the Miami Herald reported that 120 Cuban nationals were deported in a charter flight to Havana, “the largest group of Cuban nationals to be removed on a single flight in recent years,” according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement statement.
The news angered members of the Cuban American community in South Florida.
“I think it is important for political leaders, for community leaders to call attention to this reality,” said Fran Mora, Florida International University professor and former deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere under President Barack Obama . “People are focusing on the 120; it’s much more than that.”
The number of Cubans deported to the island has been rising from 160 in the first year of the Trump administration, to 463 in 2018 and 743 this fiscal year.
The Cuban government, which is currently under stricter sanctions by the Trump administration, quietly received the flight on Aug. 30, with no reports appearing on its official media.
“The large removal charter is made all the more significant given Cuba’s longstanding status with respect to accepting the return of Cuban nationals ordered removed from the United States,” ICE said in the statement. “Cuba has a long history of being deemed an ‘uncooperative’ country.”
“We note Cuba’s willingness to accept the return of 120 of its citizens with orders for removal and reiterate the importance of safe, legal and orderly migration,” a State Department spokesperson for Western Hemisphere Affairs told the Miami Herald. “The Department of State defers to the Department of Homeland Security/ICE on the issue of the return of Cuban citizens without legal status within the United States.”
While efforts to legally protect Venezuelans from deportations have mostly been a bipartisan affair, Cuba policy is more polarized, with Democrats accusing the Trump administration — which has vowed to fight the ‘troika of tyranny’ comprising the governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua — of doublespeak.
“It’s more than ironic to have to ask a Republican president whether or not he actually believes the Cubans can face prosecution in Cuba. One would think that is no longer a belief of the Republican Party,” Rodríguez said at the conference.
Trump officials have broadly seen the elimination of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy as a gift from the previous administration, one that lifted the political burden of being perceived as punishing Cuban migrants, which might hurt the Cuban-American vote in Florida.
That might be changing now that the Cuban government has unexpectedly agreed to take a larger amount of deportees and the fight for the Hispanic vote in swing-state Florida is gaining steam.
Florida Democrats have been slow in publicly addressing the hurdles faced by Cuban immigrants. The deportation news provided an avenue to reach out to the Cuban American community while criticizing Republicans leaders, who Mora said remain “silent” about the issue.
But speakers at the Freedom Tower didn’t mention that it was Democratic President Barack Obama who, in his last week in office, removed the protection for deportation known as wet foot-dry foot that allowed Cubans who reached the border to legally stay in the U.S.
The joint statement signed by the United States and Cuban governments on Jan. 12, 2017, allows immigration authorities to quickly deport Cuban nationals deemed “inadmissible.”
“Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who are apprehended at ports of entry or near the border may be placed into expedited removal proceedings in the same manner as nationals of other countries,” the Department of Homeland Security said at the time.
But if Obama removed the protection, Trump’s controversial immigration policies have made the situation of Cuban immigrants even more difficult.
Initially, the elimination of the wet foot-dry foot discouraged some Cuban immigrants from coming to the U.S. But increasing government repression and a dire economic situation on the island have pushed thousands of Cubans to seek asylum at the Mexican border.
As of August, 20, 603 Cubans have been detained at the southwest border in the current fiscal year that ends this month.
Thousands are now awaiting in Mexico for the processing of their asylum cases after the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Mexican government in June.
Those who entered the country earlier did not fare much better. Many are languishing in detention centers for migrants because the administration is ordering judges not to release asylum seekers on bail and ICE has almost halted paroles.
The Trump administration has made passing ‘”credible fear interviews” to seek asylum more difficult in general, Rodríguez said. And since the administration removed deportation priorities set by Obama, many Cubans who had no criminal history have also been deported.
According to the ICE statement, one of the Cubans repatriated on the August 30 flight was “an aggravated felon who possessed convictions for First Degree Kidnapping with Use of a Deadly Weapon, Sexual Assault With Use Of A Deadly Weapon, and Trafficking In Controlled Substance – crimes for which he earned sentences of 15 years, 25 years, and 12 months in prison.”
Mora said the Trump administration “wants us to think that all Cubans being deported are criminals. That’s simply not true.”
Follow Nora Gàmez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres