From Cuba to Miami in Business Class

By Abel Sanchez  (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES — Felix took five days making a journey that, on a plane, takes no more than 40 minutes. He left Havana one Sunday afternoon and arrived in Miami Thursday night. He was exhausted, unbathed, unshaven, famished and weighed several pounds less, but when he hugged his relatives at the end of the trip he was very happy. After all, he had been lucky.

Félix and his girlfriend were students in their fifth year at medical school but decided not to finish their career to avoid the two years of what is known is Cuba as “social service.”

They found a contact — nobody knows how because such things are not revealed — a coyote who, for 6,000 dollars, would help them cross the border in a relatively safe manner. There are more expensive and safer alternatives, but they could not afford them.

The greater the safety, the higher the price, and both knew that all the money in the world will not guarantee a safe trip. You depend on luck or, what’s the same, the honesty of the person who brings you across.

They were told one week earlier that the flight would leave the following Sunday at 3 p.m. Beyond the concealed farewells, the restrained, badly concealed tears, the half-spoken secret that everyone imagines, the discreet certainty that there will be no return (at least not soon), came the sensation of being torn away, of being flung into the void, into the vortex of the universe.

Besides the minor mishaps typical of emigration, the first half of the trip transpired without complications. Nobody asked too many questions when they left Cuba or when they arrived in Mexico City. Outwardly, theirs was nothing more than a harmless tourist holiday.

The problems began shortly after they boarded the bus that would take them to Laredo, to the border between two worlds.

Barely three hours after they departed, they were stopped at the first federal police checkpoint. An officer got on the bus, said hello, exchanged some words with the driver and walked straight to their seat.

The officer asked Félix to step down, as his girlfriend watched, trembling, from the other side of the window. A couple of policemen led him to a bathroom next to the checkpoint shack. They weren’t looking for weapons or drugs, only for money.

They stood Félix face to the wall and frisked him from head to toes; then they had him turn around and asked him to lower his trousers. That was unnecessary. They had already found the cash he carried with him, when they saw the money belt around his waist.

That had been a rookie mistake, the coyote later explained to them. The money is usually carried by the women in their underwear, close to the skin. According to the rules, the police are not permitted to frisk women, which gives them a certain advantage — if and when the policemen follow the rules.

One of the guards counted the money and pocketed it. Félix tried to protest, but the policemen shoved him. They were still not satisfied.

“Listen, pal,” said the one who had counted the cash, “you’re going to cross the border and we know it.”

“I’m not going to cross anything. I’m on a holiday tour and my papers are in order.”

“Don’t play smart, you idiot. If you want to reach the border without problems help us, and we’ll help you.”

“I didn’t come to cross the border. I’m on a holiday tour.”

“If you don’t cooperate, we’ll bring your girl here and frisk her the way we frisked you. Is that what you want?”

“I didn’t come to cross the border.”

“We’re going to take your documents.”

“I didn’t come to…”

The exchange lasted several minutes, until someone — Félix doesn’t know for sure who — phoned police headquarters. After talking a few seconds on the phone, the guard who was questioning him kept the money and told the others to let him go. Apparently, the contact was reliable.

The same scene was later repeated a couple more times, with slight variations: the bus was halted, a federal policeman went aboard, went directly to their seat without checking anyone else and asked them to step down.

Félix believes that it was the driver himself who told the police that they were Cubans. But from that time on, Félix managed to keep from surrendering his money, no matter how much they tried to extort him.

When the bus arrived at the final checkpoint in Nuevo Laredo Tuesday morning — aided by the coyote, who finally did his part — the two had clear symptoms of what is called the Ulysses Syndrome, the syndrome of the emigrant, with chronic and multiple stress.

Once across the border, in Laredo, Texas, they were not taken to a detention center for immigrants because it was full. They had to stay in the border station the three days that it took to process them, sleeping on the floor, using their backpacks as pillows, near the bathroom (the warmest place in the building, nobody knows why), along with many others who had crossed the border, just like them.

From those people they learned that they had been lucky. Lucky that they had been stopped by the federal police, not by the Zeta or Mara gangs or the kidnappers.

Lucky that they didn’t go through the experiences they heard: Cubans who come from Ecuador and disappear; Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans who cross Mexico in a freight train called The Beast, because the people climb aboard while it’s moving, risking mutilation or death. Once aboard, they risk being mugged during the night, while they try not to fall asleep.

They heard the stories of 72 migrants who were gunned down by narcos because they refused to join their gang; about women who are raped and/or forced to become prostitutes.

Barely one day after their arrival, they saw two Salvadoran children under the age of 10, unaccompanied. Nobody knew how they got that far.

That’s why, when Félix and his girl arrived at Miami International Airport five days after leaving Havana and he was asked about the trip, despite the exhaustion, the stress and the hunger, he essayed a half-smile and answered, “Us? We came in business class.”


32 thoughts on “From Cuba to Miami in Business Class

  • September 4, 2014 at 7:18 pm
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    The country doesn’t get the opportunity to do its best for its people.
    The country is under the dictatorial control of the Castro family regime. Again you try to mitigate the economic disaster and food rationing and lack of human rights in Cuba by mentioning the problems of others.
    The are others you don’t mention North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela. Why leave them out?

  • September 4, 2014 at 7:10 pm
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    I spend more than half the year in Cuba, my wife, our home and yes, even our dog are in Cuba, I am related to 68 Cubans and my God-daughter is Cuban. That is home! Where do you live when not shivering in your cave in your Chinese cotton Che T shirt?
    Explaining problems in other countries does not mitigate in any way the dictatorship of the Castro Ruz family.
    My concerns are for Cuba and the Cuban people if I am regarded by you as a “propagandist” for their desire for a better life and freedom, I am proud to be so. If you want a dose of real propaganda watch Cuban State TV – especially the “education” channel. That’s channel 25 on my TV at home.
    You ask about financial support – I guess the basis of such a snide totally unjustified remark is an inability to actually deny the points I make and a desire to cow-tow to Socialismo.

  • September 4, 2014 at 11:15 am
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    First of all because they don’t get VISAS from the US so they risk it thinking that streets are paved of gold in the US. You read a lot about those Cubans who make it but not about those who are in economic dire straits or have tried to return to Cuba. How many Central Americans migrate to Honduras? Cuba is in mcu better shape than Honduras, El Salvador and Southern Mexico, but of course you can exploit people and become wealthy…how many become wealthy in the US? How many Latinos (a very small percentage…) Cuba is neither hell nor paradise, just a country trying to do the best for its people…..

  • September 4, 2014 at 11:10 am
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    Yeah, that is why Cubans seem so sickly with the children showing their stomachs extended with parasites, just like in the Dominican Republic, Honduras or Panama….I guess being a propagandist gets you some financial support? By the way, you don’t live in Cuba!

  • September 3, 2014 at 2:44 pm
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    Not many DaN!
    The 2012 Census by Cuba revealed less that 5,600 residents born in other countries. Yes here are some Jamaicans who immigrated in the 20’s and 30’s – hence he annual cricket match.
    But in a world with an ever swelling number of economic, political and racial refugees civilized countries are offering refuge to them. Canada takes in over 300,OOO a year. The European Union countries have ever increasing numbers of both legal and illegal immigrants from Africa. The USA in addition to hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants per year
    is inundated by millions of illegal immigrants.
    How many of these desperate people are offered refuge by Cuba?
    NONE, not one, NADA
    Why are there jobs in the free democratic countries which open their doors and hearts to the oppressed and why do those refugees accept?
    That DaN is because the freedom of the individual has encouraged capitalism and the creation of jobs. Cubans have neither freedom or democracy and offers no refuge for the oppressed – having 11 million already.
    Don’t bother DaN to advise me to visit Cuba – it is where my home is and where I daily observe reality.
    It also means that when there I cannot contribute to this site as there is no access to the Internet. There is no access to free media, be it TV, radio or press, only that which the Castro family in its generosity to its subjects permits.

  • September 3, 2014 at 8:00 am
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    Griffin, you need to visit Cuba. I have met Jamaicans and Haitians living there. Anyway, you miss the point. Economic refugees always flee to the Empire. It’s where the jobs are, y que ?

  • September 2, 2014 at 2:37 pm
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    rodrigvm, the GDP per capita in Cuba is $5,460. The average income is $252.
    $252 represents 4.6% of the GDP per capita.
    The balance is retained by the Castro family regime!
    A very major foreign business operating in Cuba pays the regime $9,000 per annum per worker. The workers receive $300 per annum from the regime.
    $300 represents 3.3% of the GDP per capita.
    The balance is retained by the Castro family regime.
    In each case the worker is receiving less than 5% of the total. Conclusion! Moses got his facts right!
    You may not personally value freedom in which case you should immigrate to Cuba – which for you has the added attraction for you of no tax!

  • September 2, 2014 at 9:51 am
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    How can you explain that Cubans sails rustic rafts to central america by thousand every year and central american people never try to get in Cuba????

  • August 31, 2014 at 8:58 pm
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    Cuba has a severe pollution problem. Look at the billowing black smoke looming over Matanzas from the oil facility, smell the oil pollution at Santa Cruz, look at the pollution emanating from the nickel mining at Moa. All those ancient trucks with diesel engines belching out choking black smoke in the streets including many that have been converted into the public transport which you use. That rodrigvm is pollution, yes you may shut your eyes, but that doesn’t stop the smell!
    As for your anticipation that small businesses will be able to afford to purchase old cars for three to four times their market value in the free world, don’t count on it. Firstly if the small business has $30 – $40,000, most will emigrate. Secondly, many of the new small businesses are folding. For example the lady who lives two doors along the street from our home enthusiastically purchased her licence, bought clothes and started to sell them from the front of her house. She sat day after day selling the odd garment mostly to friends, but could not earn sufficient to continue and being unable to afford to renew her licence has now sht down. The folks who were orIginally selling DVD’s at 25-30 pesos have been joined by others who have had to cut prices which are now 15-20 pesos. There are more hairdressers starting up and the number of younger men with either the gorilla or coconut styles is increasing the hairdressers have the time, to do the style as they have fewer customers! I do know of one small businessman who sells air – for the uniniiated I should explain that Cubans with bicycles and the bici-taxi people pay to have their tires pumped up to vendors who have air compressors and the one to whom I am referring has an engineering degree but can make more money selling air. He is trying to sell his home (With business) for $25,000 which would enable him to join his fiance in Miami. Yes, she exists as I have met her on two of her visits. So yes, go figure!

  • August 31, 2014 at 8:14 pm
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    Marrying a Cuban or trying to become a permanent resident? If the latter how are you going to earn income?

  • August 31, 2014 at 2:27 pm
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    Unnecessarily? Wouldn’t he be in a better position to determine that than you? It amazes me to no end how you armchair Bolshevek’s seem to know what’s best for those who live the reality of your fantasy!

    You should provide public service announcements in Cuba to dissuade those who wish to flee. Let them know the error of their ways!

  • August 31, 2014 at 8:47 am
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    Numerous time-work studies on the Cuban labor force have determined that the Cuban worker who earns an average of $21.00 per month is ‘effectively’ taxed at a rate of at least 95% when compared to comparable work performed by workers in countries similar to Cuba in terms of population size and GDP. I am sorry I don’t have the links at hand and my internet is shaky this morning. While those affected by violence in Central America are certainly struggling, the impact of this violence affects a far smaller percentage of the overall population than the lack of freedom in Cuba. In Cuba, EVERYONE is impacted by Castro tyranny.

  • August 31, 2014 at 7:49 am
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    I have been trying to sell my house and have not been able, if the market is full of houses, if financing is low and if the home is in a state of disrepair, one friend just sold his paladar and retired to Santiago where he is from. Sold it well enough to retire…go figure…as to car, as the small business economy grows more cars will be sold, but frankly, I prefer they spend on public transportation so it does not become a polluted, traffic bout place like most US cities.

  • August 31, 2014 at 7:45 am
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    There is no 95% tax rate, and to say that lack of freedom is worse than the daily violence in Central America is insensitive to say the least.

  • August 31, 2014 at 7:25 am
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    I agree with you, the US must give protection to those kids……… but please, don’t try to minimize Cubans situation…… you will never see people that are not in the most desperate situation to try to sail 350 miles in a rustic handmade raft through a stormy and shark infested sea just to reach Central America to escape Cuba….. many of those lucky ones that don’t die in the sea decide to stay in Central America and other tries to get in the US….. but the ones that stays in Central America have a much better life there than in Cuba……… this fact works hard against castro propaganda, so hard it works that to avoid this escapes the criminal regime of castro worked deals with the Caiman Island gov. to deny help to those escaping:

    http://news.asiaone.com/news/world/cuban-migrants-head-back-sea-after-being-turned-away-caymans

  • August 30, 2014 at 8:03 pm
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    The Central American kids are fleeing conditions much worse than the Cubans fleeing their country. It is a real shame that Cubans get automatic asylum when they reach the U.S and most of the Central Americans get sent back. This is the most pressing immigration issue, yet neither the President or Congress will do anything about it.

  • August 30, 2014 at 7:53 pm
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    Of course I read the news…. furthermore I visit Cuba twice a year because I have my mother and sisters there ….so…. Rodrigum, I have much more information you can have from those indoctrination source you seems to get yours.

    By the way……. Rodrigo is a Goth name (Scandinavian) coming from the name Rodrik (the one that row the bay, I believe))….. vm (or um) is a roman word termination that gives a place denomination……. so…… those two things does not match.

  • August 30, 2014 at 7:39 pm
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    I feel the need to add to your comment…….. dear Lis, be careful with the Cholera, Dengue, Malaria, Typhoid, Chukunguña (this is a new one), Giardiasis, Elicobacter, Pneumonia caused by parasites, etc, etc, etc….. regime gives no information about all these diseases but hospitals are full with people suffering many of them….. don’t eat raw vegetables, always boil a long time your drinking water, don’t make same mistake many tourists did to drink bottled water thinking it is sure because it is bottled out side Cuba or from Cuban healthy springs because people working in restaurants, shopping and markets uses to refill used bottles with faucet water and resell them as brand new….. don’t drink any drink containing ice because this ice is made of non secure water, don’t drink juices because are made with non secure water…. in Havana city keep your self inside tourist zone (the small zone half mile toward the south from the north coast of Havana from Maine monument to Coney Island; out side this zone it is too dangerous for a tourist, regime does not release crime statistics but those are very high…….. be careful with your money, don’t let people to know you have cash with you, in spite the false image you have of Cuba the reality is that people is desperately, in hunger and pain, so, anyone can be the thieve or the assassin…. you don’t believe me????….. walk Havana and then come and tell me why the city looks as a jailed city and every single home is surrounded with iron cages, windows, doors, portals, etc……. be extremely careful with your language, anything you say can be taken by regime as an attack and you can be threaten like an enemy……. good luck.

  • August 30, 2014 at 5:52 pm
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    At a greater than 95% tax rate, neither education nor health care is ‘free’ in Cuba. The lack of freedom in Cuba is far more dangerous to human beings than drug cartels and corrupt politicians. A free man can change his condition. Cubans are held captive by the Castro dictatorship. Far worse.

  • August 30, 2014 at 5:47 pm
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    Your comment is worse than naïve. Carlyle MacDuff’s response is perfect.

  • August 30, 2014 at 5:43 pm
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    I can safely assume you are either retired or at least well-off. I would bet that you are not planning to live on 20 cuc per month the way most Cubans do.

  • August 30, 2014 at 5:41 pm
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    There are advantages to living in Cuba as long as you are not Cuban.

  • August 30, 2014 at 1:48 pm
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    Amazing how fish swallow bait! The ‘housing market’ in Cuba at large is predominently mythical. We do not live in Havana but in one of the provincial capitals. Upon President Raul Castro Ruz decreeing that Cubans could now sell the houses in which they lived, hand painted signs went up outside quite a lot of casas: Se vende esta casa.
    When asked – and yes, I asked several – why they wished to sell, the answer was that they wanted to use the money to move to the US (which incidentally would not be my choice as I don’t admire the gun laws and racism).
    However, with an average income equivalent to $20 per month there are no buyers.
    Regarding the ‘automobile market’ it too is predominently mythical with the official agency selling approximately 50 cars in the first year – in a population of 11.2 million. I have a nephew in Canada who owns a car dealership – he has three times that number of cars on his car lot and sells about five per day. My nephew will sell you a brand new car for as little as $12,000. In Cuba the government agency wants $30-40,000 for an old banger! Now that is where you are almost correct, the price of cars in Cuba is more than expensive it is exhorbitant.
    Regarding agricultural land, tens of thousands of acres of good land lies fallow and is reverting to bush. Cuba under the Castro family regime has had an ever increasing need to import food. All those five year plans and promises have repeatedly failed to the extent that FAILURE properly describes their supposed endeavors. Just how much of Cuba’s good agricultural land is “now being operated by coops (sic) and individual operators”? Where is the production?
    Just list the shortages:
    Chicken
    Eggs
    Beef
    Milk
    Potatoes
    Rice
    Coffee
    Butter
    Cheese
    Yoghurt
    Vegetables
    SUCCESS? The wait at the government empresa for a 200 gm loaf of bread can be as short as only 35-40 minutes. I guess you have been reading Granma rather than studying reality

  • August 30, 2014 at 11:54 am
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    I guess you don’t read the news, now there is a housing market, a automobile market (yes expensive but car are expensive) also much agricultural land is now being operated by coops and individual operators….

  • August 30, 2014 at 11:53 am
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    I have a few friends who live in Cuba, some have retured or studying in th film school of Los baños. By the way, many Central Americans get a free medical education at the Latin American Medical School….and then like good citizens return to help the poor in their countries…

  • August 30, 2014 at 11:51 am
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    The irony is he took a risk unnecessarily because he wanted to hace access to the US immigration policy that privileges Cubans so they can flee the communist government (where they tortured?). He avoided serving the Cuban people as a doctor after they paid for his education. Now Cubasn can trvael if they get a visa from another country (how mean of Cuba!) just like anyone in the World. There is not use for the special privileges for Cubans in the US except that the US uses this for propaganda. The young children stopped at the US border face more dangers in their countries than this malagradecido.

  • August 30, 2014 at 11:01 am
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    I’m Canadian and am planning to move to Cuba within the next year!

  • August 30, 2014 at 7:31 am
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    How many people flee the USA, Mexico or Central America to go live in Cuba?

    Right. Zero. Not even a veteran Castro bootlicker like you would ever think of actually moving to Cuba.

  • August 30, 2014 at 6:34 am
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    Castro sycophants slithering defense of the embarrassing defection of Cuban nationals ignores several basic differences between Cuban exiles and, lets say, Honduran immigrants. First, the Honduran is more likely to be poorly educated. Far fewer, Honduran doctors or engineers choose to leave Honduras for lack of economic opportunity. Second, the Honduran is more likely intent upon returning one day to his native Honduras in order to buy property or start a business. Finally, many immigrants from Latin American countries continue to vote or simply remain engaged in the political and social atmosphere of their native countries. Even Venezuelans who live in Miami can still cast their vote for President in their embassy. These differences make leaving their country of origin ‘feel’ a lot less permanent and allow the immigrant to better contribute to the future of their homeland.

  • August 29, 2014 at 7:16 pm
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    I will gladly exchange my right as Cuban to stay legally in the US after 1 year for the possibility my Mexicans employees has to save money like crazies along 2-3 year of hard work and get back to their countries to buy a piece of land and start a farm or build a house to rent or star a cleaning company or a construction company, etc….. that possibility we Cubans have not in our own country because castro regime is the only landlord, the only company owner, the only who decides who can make business s or not in Cuba…… and until today people that left Cuba can not to invest there.

  • August 29, 2014 at 3:27 pm
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    You are correct Dan in defining the difference between those who illegally enter the United States of America from South American countries and Cubans entering by the same route.
    What they have in common is a desire to live in the USA which enables them to improve their lives as it practices capitalism. Obviously for the USA, illegal immigration is a problem as so many South Americans wish to leave their homelands to seek a better life there.
    It is more difficult for illegal immigrants to enter Canada as the USA is the only land linked neighbouring country. But Canada like the USA does give preference for legal immigration to political and racial refugees and for the USA, Cuban immigrants qualify under the former. The important thing for Felix and his girl is that despite their sacrifices they thought the risks were justified and were able to smile. We who live in the free world can only wish
    them a happy future in no longer having to live under “Socialismo”.
    The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was negotiated between the USA, Canada and Mexico in 1991. George Bush Snr. was US President and he appointed Carla Hills as US negotiator. A Canadian organization proposed to Michael Wilson the Canadian negotiator, that there should be employment opportunity between the three countries upon the basis of work permits the use of which would have enabled Mexicans to work legally in the US and Canada for defined periods but not to become citizens. It was explained that if this was not achieved many US companies would relocate to Mexico to obtain cheap labour. Carla Hills made a pre-agreement with Mexico that Mexico would not raise the subject of mobility of employment in discussions. Upon learning of this, the Canadian organization concerned asked Michael Wilson in July 1991 whether Canada had been party to a similar agreement and he reluctantly admitted in a personally signed letter in September ’91 that it had. He explained that this was solely due to Carla Hills insistence. I know because I was the corrrespondent with Wilson.
    George Bush Jnr. reaped the rewards of his father’s policy when the 13 million illegal Mexican immigrants became a political sword of Damocles for him. Somehow the US has an inability at times to do forward thinking and has a perhaps unjustified faith in its own thinking being superior to that of others. Similarly, the US does not appear to comprehend other cultures and social orders. I say this as a neighbour who has received great hospitality when in the US and who wishes it well. I am told that only about 15% of US citizens have ever had a passport and that may be a contributing factor.

  • August 29, 2014 at 2:07 pm
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    Fidel class is more like it. And just think, he was leaving a free med school education, rather than a life-long career as a $2 a day bracero, picking melons in a glyphosate soaked field. He could have solice in the fact that as a refugee from Communism, he’ll get his parole and employment authorization, and 1 year later, his Permanent Residency, along w/ food stamps and other taxpayer funded benefits, while his Central American travelling companeros can spend the next 50 years here, get married, have kids and pay taxes, and they will never have the benefit of none of that, and will have to live w/ the constant fear of deportation to their impoverished, crime-ridden countries.

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