Reports show that there are more than 1,300 Cuban migrants who are currently being held in detention centers across the U.S. awaiting trial. All of them traveled to the U.S. seeking freedom, but the immigration policy that allowed them to remain in the country was ended by former U.S. President Barack Obama.
Cuban migrants seeking residency were welcomed in the U.S. as political refugees under the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy. Obama eliminated the policy on January 12, just days before his presidency ended.
“Wet foot, dry foot” allowed Cubans who arrived on U.S. soil (dry feet) to stay and eventually become residents, even if they arrived without visas. Those who were caught on U.S. waters (wet feet) were sent back to Cuba. Obama’s January announcement left thousands of Cubans migrants bound for the U.S. stranded in Mexican cities near the border and third countries like Panama.
“Many individuals who were arrested were caught in a legal limbo because they were in transit during the period when the wet foot, dry foot policy changes,” Javier López, president of the Cuban American Bar Association (CABA), told The Herald.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not specified how many detentions and deportations have taken place since Obama’s announcement, but a little over 1,300 Cubans are believed to be in the agency’s custody as of July. The figure went up from 650 in March.
“What I heard were stories of people who felt that they literally could not live in Cuba anymore. Many say that not even in their wildest dreams would they have imagined that the United States would treat them this way,” Wendi Adelson, executive director of the Immigration Partnership & Coalition Fund (IMPAC) told The Miami Herald. “They thought that this was a country of freedom and this was what they came for, to live without the government having its boots on their necks—and now this?”
Cubans can still seek political asylum at the U.S. border and a judge will hear their case to establish if their fear of persecution is credible—a process all foreigners seeking asylum in the U.S. must go through.
IMPAC raises funds for the defense of undocumented migrants who don’t have criminal convictions. Adelson told The Herald that IMPAC is in the process of hiring a lawyer to represent the Cubans being held along the U.S.-Mexico border. But with so many detainees in custody, the organization’s efforts may not be enough. Male detainees in particular need legal representation.
According to Adelson, women are not required to post bond, but men have to pay a $7,500 bond before they are released. While many of the Cuban migrants have family in Florida who could help them, most don’t have that kind of money and therefore must remain in detention.
Adelson said contact with the outside world is also restricted, which makes it difficult for them to speak with their relatives. They are allowed 45 minutes in sunlight daily and are locked up seven days a week. For the 1,355 Cubans being held in detention centers across the U.S., every day is a waiting game.