U.S.-bound Cubans stranded in Mexico say they are victims of extortion
BY MARIO J. PENTÓN
For some of the U.S.-bound Cuban migrants who are now at the Siglo XXI
detention center in the far southwest Mexican city of Tapachula — and
their relatives in the United States — a journey once filled with hope
is now overflowing with anguish.
"For weeks, we have been getting calls from somebody demanding money if
we want to see our family members again," said the mother of one of the
stranded Cubans. She asked not to be identified for fear of retribution
against her son.
The woman, who lives in Miami, recounted how half an hour after
receiving a call from her son from the detention center, the telephone
rang again and again from different numbers in Mexico.
The voice on the other side of the phone identified himself only as a
lawyer by the name of Padilla.
"He tried to find out the names of our relatives and told us that he
could help us get them out of there for a sum of money," said the Miami
Yuniel, a Cuban migrant also stranded in Tapachula near the border with
Guatemala but not in detention, blamed the calls on agents who work for
the National Institute of Migration (INM).
"We all know that migration officials have some way of getting the
numbers called to the United States. Somehow, they find out the numbers
and then take advantage to extort the family," he alleged.
The telephones at the Siglo XXI used for international calls are public
so it is unclear how numbers dialed can be extracted. But at least three
relatives of different migrants interviewed said they had received
similar calls in which alleged officials asked them for money in
exchange for their relatives' freedom. None of the three agreed to pay,
and the calls did not go on long enough to discuss specific dollar figures.
"We are afraid of what could happen to them; they are in the hands of
mobsters," said the Miami mother. "Last week, three Cubans disappeared
from the same detention center. Nobody knows what happened to them."
An official of the INM confirmed to el Nuevo Herald on Monday that there
are 90 Cubans detained at the Siglo XXI. Of these, 59 requested
protection from deportation before a judge, and 23 sought refuge in
Mexico. The remaining eight are awaiting a decision from the Cuban
Embassy in that country because they have been out of the island for
less than two years. Under Cuban law, those who are out of the country
for more than two years automatically lose their residency. If Havana
deems the eight Cubans still as legal residents, they must be deported
according to the migratory agreements between both nations.
Asked about the alleged disappearance of three migrants from the
detention center — identified as Armando Daniel Tejeda, Daniel Benet
Báez and Yosvany Leyva Velázquez — the Mexican immigration official said
the three escaped and therefore were not considered "missing."
"Two of them had sought refuge, and one had a hearing scheduled before a
judge," said the INM spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of not being
named as per Mexican protocol. "They all fled and the corresponding
authorities were informed."
Other migrants at Siglo XXI, who realized that the three were missing
and got no answers on their whereabouts, launched a short-lived protest
inside the facility that was violently silenced by authorities, migrants
The INM official said violence was not used against those in detention.
"Those are lies," the official said. "Immigration agents don't have guns
or clubs. We are not police officers.
"They [the Cubans] are very desperate," she said. "We do not want to
justify ourselves, but we believe that is the cause" for their accusations.
Countered the Miami mother: "They were beaten; their blankets and
mattresses were taken away, forcing them to sleep in cement bunks. They
are being closely watched and held as if they were criminals. My son
could disappear, just as the others."
A week ago, a group of 11 Cubans were reportedly kidnapped by a criminal
gang and later released under unclear conditions in Reynosa in northern
Hope among migrants that President Donald Trump will reinstate the
so-called "wet foot, dry foot" immigration policy or declare an amnesty
for the stranded Cubans is dwindling, said Yuniel, despite the fact that
the number of Cubans making the trek across Central America to reach the
U.S.-Mexico border has drastically decreased.
"The only option I have left is to surrender to authorities when I reach
the United States and ask for political asylum," he said. "I have
nothing to lose because I have already lost everything."
Some relatives in the United States who have hired lawyers in Tapachula
to avoid having their relatives returned to Cuba, complain of the
slowness of the processes and of alleged scams.
Karla Ramírez, the girlfriend of one of those detained in Tapachula,
said that the attorney she hired, José Roberto Escobar Ross, supposedly
filed a petition last month so that her boyfriend would not be returned
"He demanded payment of $120," Ramírez said. "He is still detained."
In a telephone interview, Escobar said that he is handling a total of 59
cases and is doing his best to get the Cubans released. He added that
the judge issued a limited time to resolve the matter.
"But we haven't gotten a response, and they have not been set free,"
"It is not the INM's fault that they are detained," said the immigration
official. "By law, these people cannot be released until a hearing is
held. It's expensive for Mexico to have these migrants here. They have
to be fed, taken care of and so on."
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