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US Government Returning More Cuban Asylum Seekers to Cuba

Barbara Rodriguez and her son, Nolan Aragon, 9, pose for a photograph in Hialeah, Fla., Aug. 6, 2019. Rodriguez is holding a wedding photograph of her and her husband, Pablo Sanchez, who is in detention in the U.S. and facing deportation to Cuba.
US Government Returning More Cuban Asylum Seekers to Cuba
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Pablo Sanchez asked United States officials for asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico. Sanchez was immediately placed in a detention center. Now, he could be expelled by the U.S. government and sent to Cuba.

Since Donald Trump became U.S. president, the government has deported more than 800 Cubans in the past year. The Trump administration has set sharp limits on who will be considered for asylum. That is coming as a shock for many Cuban asylum-seekers.

For years, the U.S. government had given special privileges to people fleeing the island nation. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cubans were given a sure path to legal residence in the United States in a policy known as “wet foot, dry foot.”

The name relates to the decision to accept asylum seekers who arrive by sea or over land.

But an agreement reached during the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency ended that policy. Cuba agreed to take back citizens who receive deportation orders. It also agreed to consider the individual cases of thousands of other Cubans who had received such orders, but stayed in the United States because Cuba refused to take them back.

Since Trump became president, Cubans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border have found the “wet foot, dry foot” policy is no longer in effect. Since last month, another U.S. policy denies protection to asylum seekers who have passed through another country and not asked for asylum there.

Even with the new agreement, Cuba remains unwilling to take its people back. That makes it difficult for the Trump administration to enforce its aggressive measures against asylum. It also leaves many Cubans in limbo.

Many, like Pablo Sanchez, are not sure what to make of the situation.

Sanchez is married to Barbara Rodriguez, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Miami, Florida. He was unable to ask U.S. officials in Cuba for a visa to join his wife because the administration removed most of its embassy workers. As a result, Cubans seeking family-related visas are told to go to U.S. diplomatic offices in Colombia or Guyana.

Rodriguez claims Sanchez was facing increasing political threats after learning he was being investigated and could face jail time. He felt like he had get out of Cuba immediately. Sanchez traveled to Nicaragua and through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. He was detained and sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, for long-term detention.

“This is plain cruel… arriving in this country and demonstrating that you are persecuted and that you have credible fear. After all, this gets thrown away,” said Rodriguez.

She talks to Sanchez by telephone once a day. “The worse thing is that now I feel all that is left for him is deportation,” she said.

It is unclear how the Cuban government treats people who are deported from the United States. But rights activists say they could face punishment for having asked for asylum.

The Associated Press spoke with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla. He said the increase in deportations results from Cuba “fulfilling its commitment” called for in the agreement it signed with the Obama administration. At the same time, he criticized the U.S. government for cutting embassy services in Havana.

About 21,000 Cubans have presented themselves to U.S. officials at the Mexican border since last October. That is three times higher than the number reported over the past 12 months, said U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

About 5,000 Cubans have received deportation orders since the new U.S.-Cuba agreement was signed, and 1,300 of them have been deported, say ICE reports.

I'm Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

reluctant adj. feeling or showing doubt about doing something

limbo n. in an uncertain or undecided state or condition

predicament – n. a difficult or unpleasant situation

cruel – adj. used to describe people who hurt others and do not feel sorry about it

previousadj. earlier in time or order