Trump Condemns Cuba’s Regime but Closes the Door to Many who Flee

By Molly O’Toole, Los Angeles Times /dpa

Cuban asylum seekers. Photo: Carolina Hidalgo / nbcnews.com

HAVANA TIMES – The hotel charged by the hour, but the two young Cubans – dirty, hungry and dazed after being released from detention in the United States and pushed back into Mexico – had nowhere else to go.

The pair and some fellow Cubans detained with them pooled a few crumpled pesos that US officials had returned in Ziploc bags along with notices to appear in court. Together, they crowded into an upstairs room with a single dirty mattress at the Hotel Sevilla.

They may wait six months to see a U.S. immigration judge just across the border in El Paso. And they face narrowing odds under President Donald Trump that they’ll be allowed to stay in the United States.

Trump has returned to Cold War-era policies against Cuba, reversing his predecessor’s rapprochement with the government in Havana. But, in contrast with decades of bipartisan US policy, administration officials not only no longer welcome Cubans to the United States, but are also pushing them out, forcing them back to Mexico and ramping up deportations to the island.

In 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, the U.S. deported 64 Cubans. Last year, the Trump administration deported 463. This year, officials are on pace to deport around 560. The number of Cubans showing up at the southern border without prior permission to enter, categorized as “inadmissibles” by Customs and Border Protection, has continued to mount, with more than 20,000 expected to seek entry this year.

The two young Cubans were among the first returned to Mexico in June under an expansion of a policy that had already required thousands of Central Americans to go back across the border while their asylum cases were proceeding in the United States. They insisted on remaining anonymous, fearful of harming their asylum cases, or putting themselves and their families in danger. Most Cuban asylum-seekers have relatives in the U.S. and are prime targets for kidnapping and extortion in dangerous Mexican border cities like Juarez.

The two had arrived in Juarez on separate buses, the end of a journey begun with a plane flight to Nicaragua. At the advice of smugglers, both headed directly to the viaduct marking the U.S.-Mexico border and easily crossed the trickling Rio Grande, immediately turning themselves in and claiming asylum with US Border Patrol agents waiting on the other side.

They thought they’d be allowed to stay.

“The coyote told us he’d get us into the US,” said one, a 24-year-old from Bayamo, Cuba, “but it wasn’t correct.”

“It was all a lie,” interjected the other, a 19-year-old from Villa Clara who said his father was a U.S. citizen. US officials overseeing their detention misled them, too, he added, telling them they’d be released in the US.

His father first applied to sponsor him to come to the United States eight years ago, he said. But now that he’s no longer a minor,” he says this is the only way.”

“They changed the laws as we were coming,” the first young man said heavily. “It was very bad luck for us.”

Cubans, hoping for asylum in the United States, instead wait in Mexico. U.S. officials forced them to return to Juarez to wait months for an immigration court date just north of the border.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Trump has quickly and quietly shifted US policy toward Cuba beneath the feet of thousands of Cuban migrants, but the change began years before the two young men set out on their journey.

Starting in 1966, the Cuban Adjustment Act served as a virtual guarantee of legal residency and citizenship for Cubans who made it to the U.S. The law was part of the long-standing US effort to undermine Fidel Castro’s Communist government by welcoming tens of thousands of Cubans who fled the island.

For decades, the US followed a policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” under which Cubans caught at sea would be returned, but those who set foot on US soil could stay. Under the 1966 law, after a year and a day, they could seek permanent residence.

But in January 2017, President Barack Obama abruptly ended the “wet foot, dry foot” rule: Cubans would now be subject to deportation if they were detained at the border without a visa. Thousands of Cubans rushing to the US-Mexico border in anticipation of the change were stranded, drawing criticism from Republicans.

But Obama had an unlikely supporter in ending “wet foot, dry foot” policy, Donald Trump, who entered the Oval Office a week later.

As president, Trump has reversed Obama’s moves to warm relations with Cuba. He has courted conservative Cuban Americans who largely opposed the thaw, particularly those in Florida, always an electoral battleground.

He has reinstated crippling sanctions that have worsened the island’s economic slide, banned cruises to Cuba, and allowed US citizens who said their Cuban property was illegally confiscated decades ago to file lawsuits. He’s threatened the Cuban government over what he terms interference in Venezuela, on whose oil Cuba relies heavily.

More than 400 Cubans are camping in a park in Acuña, Mexico

Trump’s national security adviser puts Cuba in a Western Hemisphere “troika of tyranny,” along with Venezuela and Nicaragua.

But he repeatedly says he stands with Cubans.

“On this Cuban Independence Day, we stand by the people of Cuba in their quest for freedom, democracy and prosperity. The Cuban regime must end its repression of Cubans and Venezuelans. The United States will not stand idly by as Cuba continues to subvert democracy in the Americas!” he tweeted in May.

Yet Trump has not reinstated the wet foot, dry foot rule and, further, has ramped up removals of would-be Cuban immigrants.

The “explicit” goal of Trump’s Cuba policy is “making Cubans miserable enough to overthrow the government,” said William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University. “It’s contributing directly to the increase in Cuban migration.

“We are intentionally holding the lid down on the pot so that people who are discontented can’t leave,” he said. “The hope is that the pot blows up.”

Trump’s hard-line rhetoric against Cuba masks quieter cooperation with Havana, particularly on removing Cubans from the United States.

The State Department still labels Cuba “uncooperative” in taking back its citizens but has not levied penalties against the country as it has against other nations, according to the Homeland Security inspector general’s office.

“These actions are part of the ongoing normalization of relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba,” Customs and Border Protection says of Cuban removals, “and reflect a commitment to have a broader immigration policy in which we treat people from different countries consistently.”

With the primary legal avenue that once welcomed Cubans to the United States now effectively closed, many would-be migrants believe that claiming asylum at the border is the only way to get in. For the first time, Cubans rank among the top nationalities making claims of “credible fear” that they will be persecuted at home – the first step toward claiming asylum.

As of June, 882 Cubans had received asylum decisions in US immigration courts this year, compared with 59 in 2016, according to Syracuse University’s TRAC database. The Cubans currently have a denial rate of about 50 per cent, an improvement of their record under prior administrations – if they get that far.

Cuban man organizing his papers. He was among the first Cubans returned to Mexico. Photo: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

So far, Trump has paid little political price for deporting Cubans or impeding them at the border.

Sebastian Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, said that “the reaction against this policy of returning Cubans to Mexico and to the island hasn’t reached a level significant enough that it could make a difference to the elections” in Florida, which is crucial to Trump’s chances.

Most longtime Cuban residents, he said, are “still happy with President Trump’s policies.”

At a shelter in the hills of Tijuana, Lazaro Guzman Castro and Adonis Barrera Sosa talked over each other, railing against political oppression in Cuba. Adonis said he was jailed for 36 hours and beaten after being arrested at a protest in Havana.

Adonis said Cuban police told him, “This is your last chance. We’re going to disappear you.”

The two friends, 32 and 31, raised like brothers, fled shortly after.

For all their bravado, they were open about their fears.

“We don’t go out at all,” Lazaro said. With their 20-day Mexican transit documents long ago expired, “they can deport us at any time to Cuba, and that means jail, torture.”

“Here, I’m very afraid,” he added. “We hear about robbery, murder, assault, kidnapping – especially for us, who have family in the US.”

They support Trump’s approach toward the Cuban government, even as his policy has forced them to wait almost two months in Tijuana on an unofficial list to claim U.S. asylum at the San Ysidro port of entry.

Lazaro hoped to join relatives in Albuquerque and Louisiana, and Adonis had family in Miami. Sharing No. 2943 on the list, the two likely have months before they have to think about splitting up.

“With one hand, he is putting pressure on the Cuban government,” Lazaro said of Trump. “But with the other hand, he is closing the door.”

The Cuban group in the Hotel Sevilla in Juarez appeared to have been the first Cubans to be sent back to Mexico under the administration policy of requiring asylum-seekers to wait south of the border until their cases could be considered in an immigration court.

Shortly after, the administration expanded the policy borderwide, forcing Cubans and others who’d sought asylum at ports of entry from San Ysidro to Brownsville, Texas, to wait in Mexico. They join the more than 30,000 migrants already waiting in northern Mexico, either for a U.S. court appearance or to register their claims at ports of entry.


19 thoughts on “Trump Condemns Cuba’s Regime but Closes the Door to Many who Flee

  • August 9, 2019 at 12:22 pm
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    Carlyle your Comments through out H.T. I Have respected your exceptional writing & Honesty. I on the other Hand have Not Got the Words to Explain the potential I see through out Cuba, I have seen such wast in Land & Talent in the People. I have given a Cuban Family, single Mother a new start in life with there First independently Owned & Complete Home, A Birthday Gift, I am still very happy to where my money was spent. Your Statements are Very Real & Explain Cuban Reality as we Guest in there Land understand so Very Little, With your Words & The Help of H.T Writers There will Be a New & Better Future as we Know of the Potential Those Cuban Children Deserve.

  • August 7, 2019 at 4:14 pm
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    I think Robert that you are endeavoring to explain that Canadians are without bias. If indeed that is your intent, than one can only comment that for some obscure reason, many Canadians believe that their country is a “good guy”, but that is arrant nonsense. Who for example sold India and Pakistan nuclear power stations – and how big a nuclear threat are they to each other in consequence?
    To suggest that nobody is able to judge “The Government of Cuba” is nonsense – there is sixty long weary years of communist oppression and repression, sixty years of censorship, sixty years of indoctrination in the educational system, military involvement in thirteen other countries when Cubans were on food rations. Who operates the CDR? – should “The Government of Cuba” not receive credit for introducing that internal spying service based upon the East German Stasi? Let me remind you of the reason that Fidel Castro gave:
    “A collective system of revolutionary vigilance so that everybody knows who lives on every block, what they do on every block, in what activities they are involved and with whom they meet.”
    Let me also remind you of who is in charge of the CDR! Alejandro Castro Espin, Raul Castro’s son.
    But you have the temerity to suggest that “The Government of Cuba” cannot be fairly judged! Bunkum!

  • August 5, 2019 at 3:21 pm
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    Along with John Long, you Mart Emeness make two! Which goes to prove that two wrongs don’t make a right. Compounding an error, doesn’t make it “right on”.
    But, criticism of the horrifically expensive and restricted US medical system is fully justified, as is criticism of “the right to bear arms” and mow down fellow citizens with military style automatic weapons.
    But fortunately there are much better examples of democratic political systems than the US. As one whose home is in Cuba, I still would like to know where John Long gets “free food”.

  • August 4, 2019 at 1:36 pm
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    As long as There is Embargo on Cuba, Nobody is able to Fairly Judge The Government Of Cuba… I Know There is One Nation of None Bias opinion if asked. Canadian Visiting Tourist I Believe have seen Too Much with there own Eyes & Herd the Truth From Too Many Cuban,s.

  • August 4, 2019 at 8:12 am
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    As long as a man like trump is in charge of America, the world is in a very dangerous place.
    We must help all mankind, to stop hunger, suffering, and illness.
    It’s simple, just care about each other.

  • August 3, 2019 at 5:29 pm
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    @John Long – Right on and absolutely on what you said!

  • August 3, 2019 at 1:25 pm
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    HAHAHAHHAHAHA Liberty for “free food, healthcare and tiny bills” What food???? Terrible healthcare and the lights get shut off regularly because of shortages. John Long why don’t you take a 1 month trip to Cuba without any USA privileges, such as dollars, shampoo, toilet paper, deodorant. Lets me know what you think when you get back.

  • August 3, 2019 at 12:28 pm
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    There is a degree of truth in John Long’s given opinion that as long as there is an embargo (not a blockage), nobody is able to fairly judge the Castro communist regime. That has been the basis for my own expressed opposition to the embargo, which has been used continuously for sixty years, as an excuse for the demonstrated incompetence and mismanagement of the regime. The embargo is a wonderful whipping boy.
    But John Long also demonstrates the all too frequent comparisons with the US. Most of the democratic capitalist countries in the world enjoy “free healthcare and education”, the US is the exception not the rule, yet for example spends 17.4% of its GDP on health services, compared for example with its neighbour Canada, spending 10,3%.
    As for the “free food and tiny bills” that John Long describes, just where are they obtainable? Even for someone receiving Cuba’s minimum wage equivalent to $16 US per month (400 pesos) or the pension of $8 US per month (200 pesos), there is no “free food”. An avocado costs 5 pesos, as does a bunch of bananas. One can of beer costs 25 pesos. The permuta itself requires a full 200 pesos. So just where John Long do you get your facts from?
    It ought to be noted that two key factors in Cuban society are both free – la familia which is the key to the social structure and the Afro-Cubano music. Neither is a consequence of the communist dictatorship.

  • August 3, 2019 at 12:50 am
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    Their was little incentive for them to do so, until the artificial, favored immigration status which Cubans enjoyed under a loophole granted through a flawed US policy was finally closed.

  • August 2, 2019 at 1:15 pm
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    Well, as long as there is embargo on Cuba, nobody is able to fairly judge the goverment of Cuba.
    Even though the country is under blockage, everyone is still enjoying the social welfare as free healthcare and education which in USA are close to nonexistent.
    Plus free food and tiny bills, makes people free from fighting for survival and No. 1 dancing nation in the world. 🙂

  • August 2, 2019 at 7:12 am
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    As an African American I am sympathetic to the argument that Cubans should fight for their freedom. Against the most powerful and the most racist government on the face of the earth, American blacks led the struggle against their oppressors and sadly continue to do so until this day. I grant that the social mechanisms to transact our resistance exist in the US and don’t exist in Cuba. However the Castros are not nearly as powerful in suppressing resistance in comparison to the institutions that exist in the US. On balance, Cubans themselves must do more to bring about their own freedom.

  • August 2, 2019 at 12:32 am
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    Racistas,,son todos los q hablan mal de los cubanos para no decirles envidiosos

  • August 2, 2019 at 12:29 am
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    Olga,,,nose si eres cubana pero quien eres tú, hueca de seso para hablar de los cubanos,,Si eres cubana q vive en el exterior ,,que tuviste la suerte de brincar el estrecho de la Florida sabe lo difícil del regimen castro-comunista-estalinista de Cuba para que mandes a la juventud a q se revele y trate de cambiar al gobierno,,Cosa imposible de hacer,,la única lucha de ese pueblo es tratar de salvarse como lo hiciste tú,huyendo,es la unica forma de revelarse y q salvarse,,y q vuelvan al año y un día a ver a su familia y ayudarla no es delito,,al contrario es una forma de abrirles los ojos a los q todavía piensan q el imperio es el monstruo,,q un chico pueda volver al país q prácticamente lo botó regresar triunfante y desafiante

  • August 1, 2019 at 2:58 pm
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    So easy to say don’t leave stay and build a new Cuba when you live in a democracy. You don’t know fear!!!!

  • August 1, 2019 at 1:21 pm
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    You are better off? Well bully for you. Trump’s ancestors wanted to come to the US for economic reasons but Cubans in the trying make their position with the authorities untenable if they fail. So they really risk alot. Your glib comment about going home to build a new Cuba displays a lack of compassion and an ignorance that speaks volumes. Enjoy your life Michael.

  • August 1, 2019 at 11:39 am
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    Doesn’t every other nationality too ?

  • August 1, 2019 at 11:38 am
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    Parece que se acabo el juegito. It is cruel when you are nothing but a political pawn and the problem of mass migration is world wide too. War, poverty, intolerance of all kinds are the contributors to this social phenomenon of The 21th Century. I personally don’t believe that retrenchment on the part of the developed countries of The World alone will stop The South to North outflow of people looking for a better life. Time will tell and let’s remember ” that Man proposes and God disposes.

  • August 1, 2019 at 1:02 am
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    We’re better off without that “wet foot, dry foot” absurdity. Most Cubans want to come to the US purely for economic reasons. If they want a better Cuba, then they should go back there and build it. There are no more Russian troops there to stop you!

  • July 31, 2019 at 5:36 pm
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    Well this Cubans that claim they were persecuted in Cuba never did against the Castro’s dictatorship some of them were member of the communist party or government agent , they never raised theirs voices they lived in the island like sheep and now the claims political asylum then after living a year and a day in the great USA this ppl return to a place we’re they claimed were persecuted, bringing more money to the horrible government of Cuba. Enough is Enough. Go back and fight for your right to live in a democratic society with humans rights.

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