They won’t be repatriated over the course of the hearing.
HAVANA TIMES — A Miami District Court has agreed to listen to the cases of a group of 21 Cuban rafters who managed to reach a lighthouse in the Florida Keys in order to prevent their repatriation to Cuba and receive political asylum in the US.
The federal court announced that it had agreed to consider the emergency appeal filed by Movimiento Democracia (a non-profit organization) and six of the people on the boat, claiming that they should remain on US soil under the protection of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy. The 11-page legal petition argues that when they landed on the American Shoal Lighthouse, just 8 miles offshore from Sugarloaf Key, they automatically became entitled to receive “dry foot” status, as the lighthouse constitutes US territory.
The hearing has been set to take place on Friday May 27 at 2pm before Judge Darrin P. Gayles, at the Wilkie D. Ferguson federal courtroom in downtown Miami.
The claimants’ lawyers as well as representatives from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security will attend the hearing and each of them will present their cases. Over the next few days, Judge Gayles will have to rule whether the lighthouse does in fact constitute “US territory”, which will be key in deciding the Cuban boat people’s fate.
They won’t be repatriated
For now, the US Coast Guard, who have the 21 Cubans under their custody, has spoken with Movimiento Democracia lawyers and announced that they won’t deport the group of Cubans whilst the federal court deals with the legal immigration process.
“We would like to thank the US Government for their promise to our lawyers that they won’t repatriate any of the Cuban boat people who landed on the Lighthouse whilst the court hearing takes place,” said Ramón Saúl Sánchez, the head of Movimiento Democracia.
The 21 Cubans landed in the surrounding area of Sugarloaf Key last friday after traveling for six days on the high seas. They had originally departed from Caibarién, a town in the north of the Villa Clara province. When the small home-made vessel approached the Florida coast and it’d be seen, it was immediately reported to the Coast Guard who then arrived very quickly at the scene. When they arrived, the Cuban boat people decided to climb up the lighthouse, 33m above sea level, in order to claim their right to receive political asylum in the US. Out of the 21 immigrants, two of them abandoned the lighthouse and jumped into the water to hand themselves over to the Coast Guard.
After a lengthy negotiation process, the Cuban rafters finally left the lighthouse. Since then, they’ve been held at a US Coast Guard cutter whilst they await the Judge’s ruling in regard to the controversial status of the lighthouse.
Sánchez and the team of lawyers who work with Movimiento Democracia have been working non-stop since the event; compiling any information they can about the boat people by contacting their relatives in Miami, writing affidavits and formulating an emergency appeal in order to prevent their repatriation. This legal appeal was presented in court on Tuesday.
Light at the end of the Seven Mile Bridge
The activist explained that the petition had been made in the name of Libán Concepción Lio, Alexeis Leyva, Michael Pérez Pérez, Yordanki Pérez Varea, Alexander Vergara López y Jegnier Cépedes Almaguer on behalf of the 21 Cuban rafters.
“The appeal includes all 21 rafters, because the two of them who handed themselves over to the Coast Guard had also reached the lighthouse,” explained Sánchez. “We remain optimistic because this case has strong legal precedence in its favor.”
The precedent they refer to, which is the foundation of the 21 Cubans request, dates back to a court ruling made by the Federal Judge Federico Moreno, in March 2006. In that case, 15 boat people landed on some piers belonging to the Seven Mile Bridge, in the Florida Keys region, and they were repatriated back to Cuba.
Sánchez carried out a hunger strike and the case led to a similar appeal, led by the same legal team who are now representing the 21 rafters. After a court hearing, Moreno ruled that “the Seven Mile Bridge is as American as apple pie” and the 15 Cubans, who had previously been deported, received visas in Havana to return to the US.
Text from the emergency appeal presented in favor of the 21 Cuban boat people who landed on the lighthouse.