One day in March 2010 Abraham Gonzalez, a Cuban who arrived in the United States in 1981, went to see an immigration officer about getting a work permit.
Instead of getting the document, Gonzalez was detained, faced deportation proceedings and, within months, was sent back to Cuba.
The deportation surprised not only the Gonzalez family but also South Florida immigration attorneys who represent Cubans ordered deported because of criminal convictions.
The reason: Only a limited number of Cubans who arrived during the 1980 Mariel boatlift — fewer than 3,000 — were supposed to be deported to the island because of a Havana-Washington agreement reached in 1984.
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All other Cubans with pending deportation orders — more than 30,000 — have been released under supervision orders that require them to report periodically to immigration authorities but spare them from immediate removal. Gonzalez was ordered deported because of a 1982 drug-trafficking conviction.
By and large, non-Mariel Cubans with deportation orders have been told for years they would not be sent back to Cuba because the Castro regime does not take back those who are not on the 1984 list of 2,746 individuals.
But Gonzalez’s deportation, outlined in detail last week by his attorney and his Miami family, shows that there are exceptions to the rule.
“Immigration did a very unfair thing, and they don’t want to admit they made a mistake,” said Zeida Moret, Gonzalez’s wife.
In a telephone interview from Cuba last week, Gonzalez said he was desperate to rejoin his family.
“This amounts to torture for me, to have been sent back to Cuba,” said Gonzalez. “They have removed me from my family, after having worked hard for 27 years. And they did not take into account that I paid taxes for all those years.”
Besides missing his family, Gonzalez said he had trouble finding a job and adjusting to life on the island he left 30 years ago.
“They have jobs, like cleaning the streets, that require that I work under the sun for hours, but I can’t work in the sun for hours because I suffer from a pulmonary disease,” said Gonzalez, 65. His wife said he suffers from emphysema.
It is unclear how many non-Mariel Cubans have been deported over the years. But at least three cases from the past five years, including Gonzalez’s, can be documented.
Juan Emilio Aboy, a Cuban accused of being a spy for Havana, was deported in 2005, a move announced at the time by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
René Alamo, a Cuban who arrived in 1979, was deported in 2009.
When the Alamo case surfaced last year, ICE officials said that only Mariel-era Cuban convicts on the deportation agreement were being removed.
“The process for removing Cubans has not changed,” an ICE spokeswoman in Miami said at the time. “ICE is only removing Cuban nationals contained in the repatriation agreement.”
As for Gonzalez, an ICE spokesman, Iván Ortiz-Delgado, said Friday that his agency “was looking into the matter.”
Ybarra said the repatriation list is not set in concrete.
“As Mariel Cubans get convicted and become deportable they are apparently added to this list, and in the Gonzalez case it is evident that the 90 days that the Cubans are detained are being used by ICE to submit their names to Castro to see if he will accept them back,” Ybarra said. “If Castro takes them back they are removed, as in case of Mr. Gonzalez.”
She does not deny that Gonzalez, as a convicted felon, was subject to deportation. What Ybarra objects to is the manner in which Gonzalez was “misled into thinking” that he would be released after the standard 90 days’ detention.
Though Gonzalez was deported last year, the account provided by his family and lawyer adds to the concerns of deportable Cubans that they may no longer be safe from removal.
Those concerns grew after an influential congressman in Washington in May filed a bill under which foreign nationals who cannot be deported would be placed in detention until they can be removed.
Immigration experts have said that Cubans make up the largest contingent of non-deportable foreign nationals. Ybarra said Cubans are the only foreign Hispanics who, as a general rule, cannot be deported from the United States.
Ybarra said the cases of non-Mariel Cubans sent back to the island set a precedent to deport more of them.
“The essence of this case is that ICE is not saying exactly what’s being done,” said Ybarra. “They submit a bunch of names to Cuba. Cuba says yes, you’re out of here. This is the precedent. What they’re saying, that they don’t deport anybody unless they are a Mariel, is not true.”
The Gonzalez saga began after the September 11, 2001, attacks, when state and federal authorities toughened laws or requirements for foreign nationals to qualify for driver’s licenses.
Gonzalez, who had been able to renew his driver license without much trouble prior to 9/11, was suddenly required to present immigration papers.
One day in March 2010, Gonzalez met with an immigration officer at the Krome detention center to try to resolve the issue.
According to Ybarra, Gonzalez was advised by the officer that the best course of action was to be detained, held for 90 days and then released under a supervision order which he could use to secure a work permit. Since he was Cuban, he was told, he would not be deported.
“Yes, that’s what they told me,” Gonzalez said in the telephone interview from Cuba.
Ybarra said Gonzalez accepted the deal, was detained and placed in deportation proceedings.
On March 30, 2010, Gonzalez appeared before an immigration judge at Krome and requested an order of deportation in the belief that he would be released after 90 days and then placed in supervised release.
But instead of being released, Gonzalez was put on a plane to Cuba on June 17, 2010.
“They didn’t warn me in advance that I was going to Cuba,” Gonzalez recalled in the telephone interview from Cuba. “They simply, one morning, told me, ‘Get ready.’ I thought they were going to release me so I could go home.”
Gonzalez realized he was being deported when he was ordered to board a plane at Miami International Airport along with several Mariel-era deportees.
Upon learning that Gonzalez was back in Cuba, the family contacted Ybarra, who went to Krome to investigate.
In a summary of the case, Ybarra wrote that on June 23, 2010, she met with an immigration officer who told her that Gonzalez had been deported because “he was on the list” of Mariel Cubans approved for removal.
That afternoon, the officer’s supervisor called Ybarra to say that he had been on the plane that took Gonzalez to Cuba and that no mistake had been made.
Ybarra told the officer, according to the summary, that Gonzalez had been placed on the removal list “by mistake, since he did not arrive during Mariel.”
When he arrived in Cuba, Cuban authorities expressed surprise that he had been on the plane, Gonzalez said in the telephone interview from the home where he is now living in Havana. His daughter Judith Gonzalez in Miami said he is staying at the home of her husband’s grandmother.
She said that occasionally she or other relatives travel to Cuba to visit with Gonzalez and see how he is doing.
After arriving back in Cuba, Gonzalez said he was detained for several days at the Combinado del Este prison and then released.
Since then, Gonzalez said, he has tried to get a job but has only been offered menial work that requires physical exercise that he cannot perform because of his emphysema.
Meanwhile, his family here — wife Zeida Moret and his three daughters — feel devastated by the removal.
“This event totally changed the life of our family,” said Judith Gonzalez. “Since last year when he entered Krome, we have had no life.”
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/06/23/v-fullstory/2286009/despite-mariel-agreement-us-deports.html#ixzz1QU4LeCvd