Undocumented Cuban migrants now face voluntarily return, deportation or
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
For decades, American immigration authorities have essentially greeted
Cuban migrants who have arrived on U.S. soil without visas as if they
were documented immigrants — detaining them briefly only for background
checks and then quickly admitting them into the country with an
automatic parole certificate, which allowed them to apply for permanent
residence after more than a year in the country.
That welcoming stance changed radically Thursday when the Obama
administration repealed the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy under
which undocumented Cuban migrants who reached American territory were
allowed to stay and eventually get green cards and U.S. citizenship,
while those interdicted at sea were generally returned to Cuba or taken
to the Guantánamo Naval base for possible relocation to a third country.
While the sea interdictions remain unchanged, now Border Patrol agents
and Customs and Border Protection officers at the Mexican border, the
beaches of South Florida and Puerto Rico and the nation's international
airports are under new instructions to handle Cubans who arrive without
visas in the same way they deal with other undocumented foreign nationals.
That means that the Cuban migrants will be given an opportunity to
voluntarily return to their country or be placed in deportation
proceedings, unless they request asylum which — if denied — would lead
to removal proceedings and likely a deportation order from an
Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil will no longer be automatically
issued a parole document and admitted into the country. They can still
qualify for a parole, like other foreign nationals, but now strictly on
a case-by-case basis.
"Starting today, the Department of Homeland Security will no longer give
special preference to parole requests made by Cuban nationals who reach
the United States," according to a DHS official contacted by email.
"Instead, those requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis like
requests presented by nationals of any other country."
Although American immigration officials have not released specifics on
precisely how the Cubans will be treated, in general — they say — they
will be accorded the same treatment other undocumented foreign nationals
receive: the options they face at the border, the beaches and the airports.
Asked in an email whether those options — voluntary departure, temporary
detention, credible fear interviews, asylum procedures and deportation
proceedings — will be accorded the Cubans, a DHS official replied: "Yes,
that is accurate."
If the new process for Cubans leads to deportation proceedings,
repatriation would not be take place soon after arrival. It could be a
process that may take weeks, months, perhaps even years.
If the Cuban is in detention, immigration authorities are likely to try
to deport that person within six months of arrival because 180 days is
the maximum length of time that the U.S. Supreme Court allows American
officials to hold a foreign national in a lockup — unless "it has been
determined that there is no significant likelihood of removal in the
reasonably foreseeable future."
In the case of Cubans who show up on the beaches, the border or the
airports without visas, deportation could be relatively quick, if they
don't seek asylum.
That's because, under new migrant accords, Cuba has agreed to take back
the Cuban migrants denied admission to the United States after the new
policy took effect Thursday afternoon.
"Going forward, if a Cuban migrant arrives here illegally, the Cuban
government has agreed to accept that person back," Department of
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a telephone news
conference Thursday night. "Those Cuban migrants who arrive in the
United States illegally...will be subject to deportation consistent with
our laws and our immigration enforcement priorities."
The deportation process, however, could take much longer if the Cuban
migrants ask for asylum.
The case would wind up in immigration court where a judge would decide
the issue. If the judge rejects the asylum request, the punishment is
deportation. However, the migrant can appeal to the Board of Immigration
Appeals and the process can take a long time because of a severe backlog
in the courts.
"The process could take years, three to four years, in the current
overcrowded process of immigration courts," said Wilfredo Allen, a Miami
Two other issues have yet to be explained by immigration officials: what
happens to Cubans who arrive with visitor visas, who then overstay and
seek residence after more than a year in the country; and the fate of at
least 35,000 Cubans who already have final orders of deportation because
of criminal convictions in the past.
Johnson made it clear that the new policy mainly covers undocumented
Cuban migrants arriving after the policy change.
"It's a prospective policy," Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama's deputy
national security adviser, told Thursday night's telephone news
conference. "Going forward, the Cubans will be taking people back."
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Source: Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil will no longer get automatic
entry | Miami Herald -