The relatives of Cuban nationals who were caught trying to enter the U.S. through Mexico and are now being held at a detention center in Tapachula, Mexico are allegedly receiving calls from Mexican officials asking money in exchange for the release of their detained family members.
The parent of one of the detainees, a Miami resident who asked to remain anonymous, told El Nuevo Herald that she has received several calls from Mexican phone numbers. The caller reportedly identified himself as an attorney who wanted to help her get her son out of the detention center for an unspecified sum of money.
This woman is the third person interviewed by the press to receive such calls from Mexican officials requesting money in exchange for their relatives’ freedom. A Cuban migrant named Yuniel, who is also in the city but not at the detention center, told sources that he believes the extortion calls are being made by agents from the National Institute of Migration (INM).
Mexican immigration officers allegedly have a way of collecting phone numbers used by detainees to call relatives in the U.S. They use that information to extort the migrants’ relatives. It is unclear how the callers extract the numbers dialed at detention center.
None of the relatives who received calls have agreed to pay, but the Miami mother is worried about what will happen to her son. She told news sources that she knows of three Cubans—identified as Yosvany Leyva Velázquez, Armando Daniel Tejeda, Daniel Benet Báez—who have reportedly disappeared from the facility.
An INM official told El Nuevo Herald that there are 90 Cuban nationals in the center. 59 have reportedly asked for protection from deportation and 23 are seeking asylum in Mexico. The remaining eight are waiting for a decision from the Cuban Embassy in Mexico.
Under Cuban law, nationals who leave the island for over two years automatically lose their residency. The eight detained migrants have been away for less than two years, and if the embassy deems them to be legal residents, they must be deported back to Cuba in accordance with agreements between the two countries.
When asked about the three detainees who have reportedly disappeared, the INM official said they escaped and were not considered “missing.” El Nuevo Herald reports that other detainees allegedly tried to launch a protest after the three went missing, but they were violently stopped by detention officers. The INM official told the paper that violence is never used at the center and that “those are lies.”
Some relatives of the stranded migrants have hired attorneys in Tapachula and are waiting for a formal hearing. After the detainees are released, they will have to surrender to authorities in the U.S. and apply for political asylum. Without the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy, the migrants’ fates remain uncertain and could include deportation to Cuba.