They are teachers, engineers or farmers, all seeking freedom in the United States. But after an unexpected policy change and an end to special treatment that allowed the majority of Cuban migrants to remain legally in the country, more than 1,300 are now being held at detention centers across the country awaiting for their fate to be decided by immigration judges.
“What I heard were stories of people who felt that they literally could not live in Cuba anymore,” said Wendi Adelson, executive director of the Immigration Partnership & Coalition (IMPAC) Fund, a Florida-based organization that raises funds for the defense of undocumented residents without criminal convictions.
“Many say that not even in their wildest dreams would they have imagined that the United States would treat them this way,” she said. “They thought that this was a country of freedom and this was what they came for, to live without the government having its boots on their necks — and now this?”
Adelson recently visited four detention centers in Texas — two in Laredo (the Laredo and Rio Grande detention centers); one in Pearsall (South Texas Detention Facility); and the fourth near Austin, which is only for women detainees (T. Don Hutto Residential Center) — to identify those in need of legal representation.
She met with 16 Cuban detainees, mostly men.
“Many said, 'Look, I've never committed any crime. I'm not a criminal, I'm not a gang member. I'm just a teacher, a husband, a normal person.' They are in a detention center for immigrants but for them it’s a prison,” the lawyer added.
Photo credit: Bob Owen, San Antonio Express-News