Activists helping Cuban-American families in Miami say that Cubans landing in the United States with legal tourist visas are being detained and deported following President Barack Obama’s repeal of the “wet foot/dry foot” immigration policy this month.
“These Cuban travelers have tourism visas. They are being detained or deported,” Ramón Saúl Sánchez, the head of Miami’s Democracy Movement advocacy group, told Miami’s El Nuevo Herald over the weekend. “Those being detained within the airport include people of advanced age, including one blind man, many of them ill,” he added. He also said those detained told him they were told they would be forced into a detention center for weeks.
“This is a disaster,” Sánchez lamented.
Luis Felipe Rojas, the Democracy Movement’s Vice President, confirmed the scenario the newspaper Diario las América, noting that the state of health of the older Cubans in detention remained a mystery in many cases. “Some of these people are elderly and sick, and have been sitting in wheelchairs for hours waiting for an immigration decision.”
The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act allows U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to permit a Cuban to stay in the country “even if they do not meet the ordinary requirements under Section 245 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)” if they have been in the country for one year. Cuban tourism visas do not grant a specific amount of time a tourist can remain in the United States; that decision is made by a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol official at their discretion upon the individual entering the country.
President Obama repealed a separate executive measure commonly known as “wet foot/dry foot” earlier this month. That decree allowed for all Cuban nationals who touch U.S. soil to be automatically considered legally present in the United States. The end of “wet foot/dry foot” was intended to affect Cubans who took to the high seas attempting to escape the communist dictatorship on makeshift vessels. It remains unclear why the end of this policy has triggered the scenario occurring to individuals with legal tourist visas this weekend in Miami International Airport, though those affected appear to be Cubans who notify Customs and immigration authorities that they intend on invoking the Adjustment Act to stay in America. Others were detained simply for mentioning the act.
“I asked if the Cuban Adjustment Act was still around and [the immigration official] shrugged,” a 73-year-old Cuban woman who declined to give her name told Miami’s AméricaTeVe this weekend. “They sat me there from the morning until 10PM without food,” she lamented. “They kept shifting us from room to room without telling us what happened.”
The woman says she slept on the airport floor overnight and was finally freed when authorities were convinced she was not lying about coming to America to celebrate her birthday with her son.
Sánchez told Miami’s Martí Noticias that he saw another case of an old man detained for making a comment that appeared suspicious to an airport officer. Authorities allegedly stripped a man of his tourist visa after asking him whether he feared staying in the United States, to which he replied with some confusion, “why would I fear that?”
“Some [older Cubans] who have gotten out say that authorities are pressuring them, saying, ‘if you want to stay, we have to take you to a detention center’ and those with advanced age think ‘if you’re going to throw me in jail just send me back,'” Sánchez told Martí.
Martí estimated that one hundred Cubans were stranded overnight on Saturday at Miami International Airport as airport officials did not allow them to meet their families and exercise the rights of their tourism visa.
President Obama’s announcement of a new policy legitimizing the communist government of dictator Raúl Castro triggered a large increase in the number of Cubans seeking refuge in America. According to U.S. Customs, the number of Cubans allowed to stay in the United States increased by nearly 10,000 between 2014, when President Obama first announced the “normalization” process, and by 13,000 between 2015 and 2016, when President Obama visited Cuba and enjoyed Castro’s hospitality at an exhibition baseball match.