Why Hasn’t the US Offered Nationality to “Stateless” Nicas?

The United States has granted humanitarian parole for two years to the 222 political exiles, while other countries have offered them nationality. Photo: Donna Burton

Spain, Chile, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico have offered nationality to the exiles. What immigration implications will this have for a former political prisoner who accepts another nationality if they want to reside in the United States?

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – After Daniel Ortega’s regime stripped 222 political prisoners of their nationality and banished them to the United States, they have received offers from several countries that are willing to grant them citizenship.

However, the United States, which is the country that welcomed them and is where these 222 people are currently located, has only offered them a humanitarian parole for two years, and many are still unclear about what will happen to their cases or what options they have now that they are stateless.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, adopted on September 28, 1954, a stateless person is “any person who is not considered to be a citizen of any State, in accordance with its laws.”

Article 12 of this Convention states that “the personal status of every stateless person shall be governed by the law of the country of their domicile or, in the absence of domicile, by the laws of the country of their residence”. That is to say that Nicaraguan exiles in the United States are to be governed by the laws of the United States.

“The United States offers political asylum, but for citizenship there are established laws and regulations, and citizenship is not granted overnight,” explains Anita Wells, president of the Nicaraguan American Alliance for Human Rights (NAHRA).

Article 32 of the Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons details that signatory States “shall facilitate, to the extent it is possible, the assimilation and naturalization of stateless persons. They will endeavor, in particular, to expedite the naturalization process, and to reduce, as much as possible, the fees and expenses of those procedures.” However, the United States is not a signatory to the convention.

Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Spain, which are the countries that have offered citizenship to those expatriated by Ortega, are all signatories of the convention.

It is worth mentioning that according to the immigration policies of the United States, once a petitioner obtains political asylum, a year later they can apply for residence, and four years later can file an application to obtain citizenship. In other words, the released and exiled political prisoners seeking citizenship in the United States will have to follow the legal procedures of the United States.

Upon arrival in the United States, the political prisoners banished by the Ortega regime were transferred to a hotel where they stayed for a few days. Courtesy photo

Best to Remain Calm

Anita Wells points out that the exiles do not have to make a decision right away. She emphasizes that they should remain calm, recover from the psychological damage of having been in prison, and finish assimilating their new reality before making a decision to accept one of the nationalities they have been offered.

“Most of them face tremendous changes, especially the ones coming from remote regions of Nicaragua where they lead simple rural lives among their crops and their cattle, and suddenly they find themselves here with electricity, hot tap water, and so on,” Wells says.

She points out that there are even people who cannot read, so do not have a good understanding of the immigration processes and procedures they need to follow, which makes it very difficult for them to make an informed decision about accepting any of the nationalities they have been offered.

She also informs that farmers are the most vulnerable in this respect because there are people who take advantage and charge them to help with their paperwork. “Let them know that they don’t have to pay to fill out anything,” she advises.

Alex Hernandez, one of the political exiles in the United States, says that when Spain offered nationality, officials from the Spanish embassy explained to them that they could fill out the form to apply for Spanish citizenship and that this would not interfere with their humanitarian parole status in the United States.

However, Hernandez explains, that “once the application is approved and the oath to assume Spanish citizenship is taken, the US State Department warned that most likely there will be changes in our immigration status in the United States.”

The exiles still do not know the details of these changes, but Hernández indicates that the governments of Spain and the United States were going to be in talks to define the procedures to be followed. “But that was 15 days ago, and we still haven’t received any more information,” he adds.

Samantha Jirón, another of the released former political prisoners, commented that she is interested in Spanish nationality, but that “we have not yet been told what the procedures are. That’s going to take a few months.”

Wells points out that what the political exiles should be most concerned with at this time is getting their work permits in the United States and attending to their mental health. “The first thing is to get their work permits, which several have already done,” she explains, adding that this instruction came from the State Department.

The 222 political prisoners were banished on an Omni Air International Boeing 767 on February 9. Archives

They cannot apply for asylum if they accept another nationality

If the political exiles accept any of the nationalities they have been offered, they would no longer be eligible to apply for political asylum, Wells explains. “From the moment another country agrees to protect you, why would the US give you political asylum?”

Wells also indicates that the US authorities will assist the exiles with family reunification and that for now they have the option of applying for political asylum in the United States as long as they do not accept the nationality of another country.

Hernandez also commented that they have been informed that if they decide to accept the nationality of another country they will not be able to request political asylum in the United States and Jiron agrees. “If we agree to be Spanish citizens (or citizens of another country), we cannot request asylum in the United States because we would already be citizens of a country that does not persecute us,” says Jiron.

Likewise, Hernández clarifies, “that does not mean that they are going to kick you out of the United States, but rather, that the process of remaining in the United States is going to be different from applying for political asylum.”

Wells notes that a person with Spanish nationality cannot apply for residence in the United States, but that in the cases of the political exiles “it is not yet known what kind of permanent immigration status the United States is going to offer them.” She adds that they should not worry about needing to make a decision soon, because they have two years of humanitarian parole to decide.

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