Wednesday, September 27, 2006

U.S. families of 108 Cubans caught at sea learned their fate via new law

Posted on Tue, Sep. 26, 2006

U.S. families of 108 Cubans caught at sea learned their fate via new law

Nearly three dozen relieved Cuban family members were notified early
Tuesday that their relatives were safe aboard a Coast Guard cutter --
the first large group of families to benefit from new U.S. government
rules to provide information about loved ones who have been picked up at

Among the 108 migrants interdicted over the weekend were two doctors who
have had U.S. visas for more than four years, but who were denied
permission to leave by the island's communist government.

''He has been going crazy because he has felt like a prisoner, even
though he has a visa to come to this country of possibility, but
nonetheless Fidel Castro denies him freedom,'' said Celina Cedeno, the
sister of Dr. Raúl Alejandro Rodríguez, 33. ``He finally took very risky
measures to come here, but now we know he is on board the cutter and he
is well.''

The new rules promised to provide family members such as Cedeno with
information about their relatives by petitioning their members of
Congress to request information from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services. In this case, the office of Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart provided
Cedeno and 31 others with information about relatives being held at sea,
including relatives of four minors.

''We've had a few isolated requests for information on family members,
but this is the first time we've . . . really tested the mechanism,''
said Ana Carbonell, Díaz-Balart's chief of staff.

One element that complicated the notification process was the need for
U.S. authorities to also obtain permission from the interdicted migrants
to release information to anxious family members.

The delays caused by that step could be alleviated, said Democracy
Movement activist Ramón Saúl Sánchez, who staged a 12-day hunger strike
in January to protest the U.S. government's so-called wet foot/dry foot
policy. ''The quickest way is to give them the consent forms the minute
they get on the boat,'' he said.

Beside the two doctors, there are at least two others in the interdicted
group who already have U.S. visas, Carbonell said.

Sánchez decried the possibility that those migrants would be repatriated
or sent to the the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, while their
cases are processed.

''If you have a visa, and you get to a recognized U.S. port of entry, it
shouldn't matter how you got there, even if you come in a kayak,'' he said.

For now, exiles were simply happy to know that their relatives were
unscathed after their attempted sea voyage.

''With that news, I was pulled out of that agony of wondering if he was
dead,'' said Hialeah resident Barbara Díaz, whose 28-year-old son, Maury
Gonzalez, is among those detained. ``If I had known, I never would have
allowed him to try to come by sea. That's risking your life, and it's
not worth it.''

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