Sunday, April 24, 2011

Newly arrived Cuban doctors face immigration delays

Posted on Saturday, 04.23.11

Newly arrived Cuban doctors face immigration delays

Cuban doctors trying to get into asylum program are finding barriers
over membership in the Communist Party when they were young.
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Dozens of Cuban doctors encouraged to defect to the United States now
face delays in obtaining green cards and citizenship because they joined
the Communist Party or affiliated organizations in Cuba when they were
young, according to South Florida immigration lawyers and immigrant
rights activists.

The delays are an unexpected problem for some of the doctors who had
hoped to be received with open arms under a program launched by the Bush
administration in 2006 as a way to undermine Cuba's "doctor diplomacy,"
a popular program under which thousands of doctors are deployed to
foreign countries. One of the largest contingents is in Venezuela, one
of Cuba's closest allies.

A statement from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) did
not address the issue of delays, but said that every application for
immigration benefits is weighed and decided on its merits.

"USCIS adjudicates all petitions and applications for immigration
benefits individually based on the evidence provided and immigration
law, while ensuring that we do not sacrifice national security,
efficiency or quality,'' the USCIS statement said.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Miami Republican who is
chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, promised to look into
the matter.

"I will contact the immigration authorities to learn more about this
citizenship problem, because what I have is anecdotal evidence from
families impacted by this barrier,'' said Ros-Lehtinen in an e-mail to
El Nuevo Herald. "These Cuban doctors are freedom-seekers who don't want
to lie but wish to take advantage of this great asylum program
especially designed for them. The Cuban tyranny shamelessly uses Cuban
doctors as its international medical propaganda, and the U.S. should
help these asylum seekers who are tired of the regime's lies."

Disclosure of the immigration hurdles is only the latest problem faced
by defecting Cuban doctors. Recently many of them complained they were
having difficulties revalidating medical credentials in the United
States, because Cuba refuses to release their certification documents.

Immigrant rights activists and lawyers who are helping Cuban doctors
said delays in obtaining green cards and citizenship add to the
bureaucratic obstacles the medical defectors encounter once they arrive
in the United States.

Green cards are particularly important to establish permanent
immigration status, especially at a time when Florida is engaged in a
major debate on increased state controls of undocumented immigrants.
Residence is also essential for anyone planning to live and work in the
United States permanently.

Cuban migrants generally can apply for a green card after more than a
year in the United States. But those who acknowledge membership in the
Communist Party face delays or denials.

For example, one doctor who defected in Venezuela less than two years
ago and applied for his green card after more than a year had his
application denied after he acknowledged joining the Union of Young
Communists at age 14.

The doctor's attorney, Tal Winer of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy
Center (FIAC), said he's now working on a legal strategy to help his
client secure his green card later.

FIAC is one of at least two organizations working with Cuban doctors
whose applications have been delayed or denied over membership in the
Cuban Communist Party or affiliated organizations. The other group is
Solidarity without Borders led by Dr. Julio Cesar Alfonso, which assists
defecting doctors resettle in the United States.

Questions about party membership remain on residence and citizenship
application forms, as relics from the Cold War, when the United States
deemed communism its chief enemy. Truthful answers are required or
applicants may face prosecution and loss of residence and citizenship if
officials prove they lied.

"This is an unpleasant situation for these professionals,'' said
Alfonso, executive director of Solidarity without Borders. "These
organizations, the Communist Party and the Union of Young Communists,
are enemies of democracy, but it should be taken into account that these
professionals join these organizations not because they believe in
Communism but because they need to do it to survive."

Alfonso estimated that perhaps 10 percent of the 1,500 to 2,000 Cuban
doctors who have defected to the United States since 2006 have
experienced delays in obtaining immigration benefits.

Ira Kurzban, a prominent Miami immigration attorney, said he has seen "a
couple of similar cases" in his office.

"It's happening," he added.

Cuban doctors who defected to the United States before the 2006 program
faced similar delays, but the cases were more sporadic because the
number of Cuban doctors arriving then was small.

None of the Cuban doctors affected by the delays was willing to be
interviewed, but immigrant rights advocates familiar with the matter
described some of the cases.

Alfonso said two young dentists who defected in Venezuela about two
years ago endured delays in getting their green cards. In one case,
Alfonso said, the application was denied. In the other, the applicant
experienced a delay but ultimately received her green card.

According to federal law, people who belonged to the Communist Party or
affiliated organizations within 10 years immediately preceding the
filing of a naturalization petition or within five years for a residence
application are barred from citizenship and residency.

Waivers and exemptions are based on whether the applicant joined the
organization when he or she was very young or whether membership was
necessary to obtain employment, food or "other essentials of living,"
according to federal regulations.

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