An elderly Cuban couple detained upon arrival at Miami International Airport following the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy are reportedly still in custody over a month since a judge denied them asylum.
Aquilino Caraballo, 67, and his wife Georgina Hernández, 64, were among the hundreds who were detained upon arrival in the U.S. after “wet foot, dry foot” officially ended on January 12. Caraballo is held at Krome Detention Center, while his wife is in Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach.
They were both denied asylum on April 4 and were supposed to be deported back to Cuba, but their daughter, Geidy Caraballo of Miami, told The Miami Herald that they have still not been released.
“They are desperate because they want to leave already. That is psychological torture,” Geidy said. “My parents are not delinquents, they are decent people who have their children here in the United States.”
The couple’s case could set a precedent for Cubans who were detained after the immigration policy officially ended. Before then, Cubans who made it on American soil were allowed to remain under a special admission permit and pursue residency after one year.
According to reports from February, 172 Cubans were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents following the end of the immigration policy. They were all sent to detention facilities to await the results of their removal proceedings.
The number of Cubans entering the U.S. without a visa has greatly decreased since Obama eliminated “wet foot, dry foot.” According to statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), only 426 Cubans tried to enter the U.S. illegally in January this year—a fraction of the 3,846 Cubans who arrived without visas within the same period last year.
Caraballo and Hernández were some of the first Cuban nationals to be detained. They had a five-year tourist visa and had visited the U.S. half a dozen times before they were detained at Miami International Airport on January 13. According to their family members, they were arrested after they allegedly told an immigration officer that they “wanted to stay” in the U.S.
During a closed petition hearing on March 10, their defense counsel tried to argue that the couple had been harassed by Cuban government officials and would probably be harassed again if they returned to the island. The hearing centered on a debate about the island’s political and economic system and the reforms implemented by the Castro regime.
The couple’s son, Jorge Caraballo, told the judge that Cuban government officials had confiscated 45 boxes of his father’s farm produce because they believed he was going to try and sell them on his own to avoid the price hikes imposed by the communist regime. The officials also threatened to confiscate his farm, Jorge said.
But the arguments made by their lawyer and family members weren’t enough to convince the judge to grant them asylum. After more than four months in custody, Caraballo and his wife have accepted that they have to go back to Cuba, even though they are afraid of retaliation from the Cuban government. The question is when they will be allowed to return home.