Published Sunday, August 27, 2006
U.S.-Cuba Relations Worries Some Exiles
By LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ
The Associated Press
MIAMI -- Jorge de Cardenas emigrated from Cuba in 1958, worked with a
CIA-backed university group against Fidel Castro and spent years as a
successful Miami lobbyist. He should have been overjoyed at news this
month that Castro was finally handing off power.
But that change now casts a shadow over de Cardenas, 61. He spent a year
in prison for obstruction of justice in connection with a 1990s Miami
corruption scandal. Because of that conviction, like more than 30,000
other Cubans in the U.S., he would be eligible for deportation if the
two countries were to resume relations, according to Homeland Security's
Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Under federal law, immigrants who have committed certain felonies are
automatically deportable, but Cubans have long been exempt because the
two countries lack a comprehensive immigration agreement.
De Cardenas said his wife, children and grandchildren, all U.S.
citizens, worry about what will happen to him.
"My family, they talk about it all the time, the possibility that I
could be deported," said de Cardenas, who is now a publicist and consultant.
A change in U.S.-Cuban relations could also spell an end to the minimum
20,000 visas Cubans are guaranteed each year, and it could kill the
so-called wet/dry immigration policy, which generally allows Cubans who
reach the U.S. to remain.
Department of Homeland Security officials declined to talk about future
"It's something we're not ready to discuss in public until the situation
(in Cuba) changes," said Joanna Gonzalez of DHS, who added the
department is concerned that any statement it makes could spark mass
migration from the island.
So far this year, the U.S. Coast Guard has interdicted more than 1,600
Cubans at sea, up slightly from last year. That includes about 100 who
have been stopped since an ailing Castro temporarily transferred power
to his brother July 31.
In response, President Bush earlier this month relaxed immigration rules
for some Cubans while tightening them for those who attempt to come
De Cardenas wouldn't have to worry about deportation if he'd become a
U.S. citizen, but he said he maintained his Cuban citizenship because he
always hoped to return to the island.
His lawyer, Linda Osberg-Braun, said he is not alone in opting not to
become a citizen and thus leaving himself at risk for deportation.
"A lot of times it was because of patriotism and because they planned to
go back. And sometimes they just didn't know what they were supposed to
do," she said.
Orlando Boquete didn't have those options. The 51-year-old Cuban
immigrant spent 13 years behind bars before DNA testing exonerated him
from a 1982 sexual assault. But Boquete, who was released from prison
Monday, also escaped from prison and admitted committing several
felonies including burglary while he was a fugitive. Although ICE
officials have agreed not to request his deportation, those crimes bar
him from becoming a citizen, meaning he would remain at risk for
deportation if the U.S. and Cuba renewed relations.
Immigration lawyer Wilfredo Allen said an immediate push for mass
deportation is unlikely because it would take years for the two
countries to reach a broad immigration accord.
Immigration expert Ira Kurzban said an end to the 20,000 visa minimum, a
guarantee few other nations have, would probably come first.
Kurzban also said that a resumption of relations would likely spell an
end to Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows most Cubans in the U.S. to
become residents after one year.
"It's really a Cold War vestige that's been perpetrated and perpetuated
by various U.S. administrations but is an anomaly in law, even in
refugee law," Kurzban said.
For now Boquete and de Cardenas, like others in their situation, try not
to think that far down the road.
"I hope it doesn't happen," de Cardenas said, "but if it does, there's
nothing I can do."