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Despite tough talk about the Cuban regime and the harm it continues to inflict on its own citizens, President Trump and his administration have reversed decades of policy to protect Cuban refugees from return to Cuba where they may be persecuted. The administration is deporting more and more Cubans, subjecting thousands of Cuban asylum seekers to the cruel and unlawful “Remain in Mexico” policy, denying naturalization and lawful permanent residence (green cards) to Cubans, erecting hurdles to lawful status, and pressuring other countries to turn their backs on Cuban asylum seekers.
President Trump Talks Tough on Cuba While Increasing Deportations of Cubans
Early in his administration, President Trump said in a speech to a Miami audience:
I promised to be a voice against repression in our region — remember, tremendous oppression — and a voice for the freedom of the Cuban people.…
America will expose the crimes of the Castro regime and stand with the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom.…
For nearly six decades, the Cuban people have suffered under communist domination. To this day, Cuba is ruled by the same people who killed tens of thousands of their own citizens, who sought to spread their repressive and failed ideology throughout our hemisphere, and who once tried to host enemy nuclear weapons 90 miles from our shores.…
While imprisoning innocents, it has harbored cop killers, hijackers, and terrorists. It has supported human trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation all around the globe. This is the simple truth of the Castro regime. My administration will not hide from it, excuse it, or glamorize it. And we will never, ever be blind to it. We know what’s going on and we remember what happened.
At the beginning of the Trump administration thousands of Cuban refugees, who for decades have been protected from deportation, expressed little concern about the possibility of deportation to Cuba. Things have changed under the Trump administration. A recent Los Angeles Times report entitled “Trump condemns Cuba but closes the door to many trying to flee” stated, “In 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, the U.S. deported 64 Cubans. Last year, the Trump administration deported 463. This year, officials are on pace to deport around 560.”
In a recent letter from Miami area Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan condemning the recent deportation of 120 Cubans in a single flight, Rep. Mucarsel-Powell called out the Trump administration’s contradictory policy on Cuba saying, “[T]he Trump Administration has demonized the Cuban government and implemented ideas reminiscent of the Cold War era….In contrast to the rhetoric, your Department apparently now views Cuba as safe to return those who have sought asylum from Communism …On their face, these two positions are not compatible.”
As the Trump administration clamps down on the Cuban regime, according to the Miami Herald, “Since September of 2018, more than 16,000 [Cubans] have been detained as they tried to cross the Rio Grande illegally or applied for asylum at border crossings — more than twice the number from the previous one-year period.” And in June this year, Reuters reported that Cubans became subject to the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP) which requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for adjudication of asylum claims in the U.S. Reuters stated, “The United States is more than doubling the number of asylum seekers it returns to Mexico in one city and adding groups like Cubans.” According to data obtained by Syracuse University’s TRAC, there were 15,564 new Cuban cases in immigration court in FY 2019 and in July almost half of the new cases were subjected to MPP, higher than any other nationality.
Reports are mounting on the consequences of MPP — lives in danger from lack of food and shelter in border towns and exposure to human trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion by cartels taking advantage of vulnerable asylum seekers turned away from the U.S.
For Cuban refugees who have safely resided in the United States for decades, they are facing denials for lawful immigration benefits. For example, USCIS reportedly denied naturalization for one political prisoner (Francisco Verona) of 3,000 that President Jimmy Carter once negotiated with Fidel Castro for release from a Cuban prison. As Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald reported, Verona was once cheered for his political action against the Cuban regime, but now “[h]is activities against the government in Cuba and his jail time in 1961, 1966, and 1972 make him morally questionable [for naturalization].”
In July, the Miami Herald reported that a “prominent member of the Cuban exile community in Miami” (Ramón Saúl Sánchez) was denied permanent residence and “is now in an immigration limbo and could be deported to Cuba, which he left as a child 52 years ago.”
In 1966, Congress passed the Cuban Adjustment Act to provide lawful permanent residence to certain Cuban refugees. A recent update to the USCIS policy manual makes it harder to obtain this lawful status by tightening the documentation needed to prove Cuban nationality.
Some media reports suggest the Trump administration is pressuring Mexico and other Central American countries to implement and enforce stronger laws to limit the number of people seeking asylum that ultimately reach the U.S. – Mexico border. Indeed, according to a USA Today report and a Huffington Post report in April approximately 1,300 Cubans detained in a Mexican immigration detention center escaped due to overcrowding, lack of food, and basic necessities.