Cuban families desperately seek information on relatives who arrived on
a go-fast boat
BY MARIO J. PENTÓN
The call from Cuba ended with a sense of dread for Yandry Pérez.
His aunt warned him through the interrupted telephone call from Villa
Clara, in central Cuba, that the whereabouts of his mother and two
younger brothers had been unknown for two days. Some 50 Cubans fled the
island last weekend aboard speedboats to Florida, even though they knew
they would no longer receive preferential treatment upon arrival in the
United States. The escape had been organized in absolute secrecy.
"For days, we have been waiting for news, succumbed to total
uncertainty," said Pérez, who two years ago crossed seven international
borders to take advantage of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, which was
repealed by former President Barack Obama in the last days of his
"When we saw in the news that they had caught two boats with Cubans we
breathed a sigh of relief," he said.
His mother, Marlenes Romero León, 47, along with his brothers Yusdiel
and Kevin, 20 and 11, respectively, boarded the speedboat as a last
resort to reunite with the rest of the family that was already in
Florida. A process of reunification that had begun a few years earlier
was frustrated when Romero was denied a visa to travel to the United
States to reunite with the father of her children.
"On television I was able to see one of my brothers, so I know they are
being detained," said Pérez, who is desperately trying to find out where
his relatives are so he can hire a lawyer to handle the case.
"We believe they can apply for political asylum. On more than one
occasion they arrested my mother. They would not even allow her to go to
the beach so she could not try to escape from Cuba, he said. "My brother
is a child, they should at least let us take care of him."
On Sunday, a 40-foot speedboat was intercepted by U.S. Customs and
Border Protection. It had more than 30 migrants aboard, five of whom ran
into the mangroves in an attempt to escape authorities but were later
A few hours earlier, a small boat with seven Cubans aboard was
intercepted at Blackpoint Park and Marina, south of Miami-Dade. A third
boat with 21 migrants was intercepted near Key Largo.
A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the
agency could not provide any information about the case or those
involved because it is part of an open investigation.
Authorities are investigating the boatmen who transported the Cubans
from the island. If they prove to be human traffickers they could face
Family members in Florida said they did not know whether their relatives
had paid for the trip, but it is known that similar trips on speedboats
can cost thousands of dollars, even before the end of wet foot, dry
foot, which allowed most Cubans who made it onto U.S. soil to stay.
Since news broke of the Cuban migrants' arrival, Julio Infante, who
lives in Miami, has not stopped looking for the whereabouts of his
father-in-law, who allegedly traveled on one of those boats.
"I've been to several places but they always tell me that they cannot
give information. We are desperate because we do not even know if he is
alive," Infante said.
The missing relative is Wilber Hechavarría, 46, who left his home in Las
Tunas in eastern Cuba. Family members on the island called his daughter,
Yoandra, in Miami, so she could keep an eye on the news.
"He wanted to be with her and leave Cuba. He always wanted to leave that
country because over there, people have to steal in order to eat," said
"My wife came from Guatemala a year ago crossing international borders.
She arrived pregnant. We already have a family and we wanted her father
to be with us, too," he said.
Although the migrants knew about the end of wet foot, dry foot, they
ventured across the Florida Straits with the belief that they would find
some way to legalize their situation later in the U.S.
For Infante, it does not matter that the policy that facilitated the
entry of Cubans to the United States is over.
"In the end, we would find a way to legalize his status or he would
remain undocumented," he said. "Either way, that would be better than
staying in Cuba."
Immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen said that Cubans who arrive on U.S.
territory and do not surrender to immigration authorities not only will
not have the right to avail themselves of the Cuban Adjustment Act a
year and a day after arrival, but they also cannot obtain legal status
even if they marry U.S. citizens.
"When a rafter or any undocumented Cuban arrives in the United States,
he is obliged to appear before the authorities for processing. The
migrant can apply for political asylum if he is persecuted and fears to
return to Cuba," Allen said.
If the case for migrants seeking asylum is deemed credible, they have
the right to request asylum before a judge and, if granted, they could
then adjust their status through the Cuban Adjustment Act, Allen said.
"If the migrant who entered the United States illegally does not present
himself to the authorities, he remains undocumented and it is very
difficult for him to legalize his status later," he said. "He is subject
to immediate deportation."
Follow Mario J. Pentón on Twitter: @mariojose_cuba
Source: Miami families seek information on relatives who arrived from
Cuba | Miami Herald -