Cuba

U.S. declares exile activist Ramón Saúl Sánchez persona non grata

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, center, president of Democracy Movement, holds a press conference to announce several forms of protest against the ban on travel of Cuban nationals and Cuban-Americans outside Carnival Corp. headquarters in Doral.
Ramón Saúl Sánchez, center, president of Democracy Movement, holds a press conference to announce several forms of protest against the ban on travel of Cuban nationals and Cuban-Americans outside Carnival Corp. headquarters in Doral. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Living for nearly half a century in the United States offers no guarantee that one can stay.

That is a reality now facing Cuban exile activist Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Democracy Movement, who received a letter Thursday from the federal government ordering him to leave the country as soon as possible. The order arrived just as he planned to sail across the Florida Straits as part of a flotilla off the coast of Cuba, organized as a show of solidarity with political prisoners in Cuban jails.

Sánchez, who obtained legal entry into the U.S. in what is known as a “parole,” had applied for permanent residency in 2002 so he could legally travel aboard the many flotillas he has organized over the years and return easily to the United States.

That permanent residency request has been denied and his parole has now also expired, according to the letter issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

“You are not authorized to remain in the United States and should make arrangements to depart as soon as possible,” stated the letter, dated April 7 and received by Sánchez on Thursday. “Failure to depart may result in your being found ineligible for immigration benefits and inadmissible to the United States in the future.”

The letter also states that the decision cannot be appealed. However, a motion to reopen the case could be filed. Sánchez said he has a team of lawyers working on the next step.

The upcoming flotilla to Cuba, scheduled to leave Saturday morning from Marathon in the Florida Keys, is still planned, Sánchez said. It was organized in response to a recent denial by Cuban leader Raúl Castro that any political prisoners were behind bars on the island.

Sánchez is a well-known activist in South Florida, who also has staged a number of hunger strikes to bring attention to various Cuba-related causes. In recent days, he had begun a protest campaign against what he considered a discriminatory act by Carnival Corp., which is abiding by a Cuban ban on allowing Cuban-American passengers aboard its Fathom cruise line sailing to Havana on May 1. Cuban law prohibits Cuban-born individuals from traveling to Cuba by sea.

Sánchez characterized the letter as "political pressure" by the Obama administration to try to thwart his plans for the flotilla and other future actions to promote democracy in Cuba.

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