Opinion

Trump’s mass deportation contradicts his Cuba policy. But where is the exile outrage? | Opinion

The proud Cuban Exile community isn’t what it used to be.

Without any notice, the Trump administration put 120 heavily escorted Cubans on a charter flight to Havana last Friday and deported them.

Just like that unprecedented history was made with the mass deportation to a despicable dictatorship.

Do you see any demonstrations down Calle Ocho, in front of a federal building, or at the Freedom Tower?

Nope, only a slate of Democratic leaders holding a press conference to say: This is wrong.

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In another blow to refuge seekers, President Donald Trump is also attempting to end the once-sacrosanct asylum process that has brought so many people fleeing persecution to this country, including the Cubans who helped make Miami a global city.

There are thousands of Cubans stranded at the U.S.-Mexico border and in third countries like Guyana and Panama trying to reach the United States. And there are thousands more hoping and waiting in Cuba for the stalled family reunification program to restart.

No asylum to seek. No family reunification as a priority of immigration policy.

Now, mass deportations — and more to come.

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If this had happened at any other time in Cuban exile history than Trump time, the streets of Miami would be on fire with indignation and the phones of our representatives in Congress would be ringing off the hook.

Allow me a relevant historic throwback to put the times in context.

In 1982, when the immigration director in Miami misread the signs of discord within the community over the Mariel boatlift and deported Cuban stowaway Andrés Rodríguez Hernández, the clash between protesting exiles and Miami police was epic.

A blue ribbon panel was convened to scrutinize exile behavior and the actions of police officers who arrested 13 people during the impromptu demonstration in front of the immigration building in downtown Miami.

Both sides got verbal slaps on wrists, but the panel’s real work was to make peace with the community. The immigration director was replaced with a President Ronald Reagan appointee who understood Miami; charges were dropped against protesters.

I know. I was there reporting on it all.

And that’s only one example of the many demonstrations that rocked Miami over one Cuba issue or another. Through protest and voting, Cubans earned respect to go along with their burgeoning economic and political power.

Fast-forward to last July.

Few in Miami raised their voices when the Trump administration denied permanent residency to longtime exile activist Ramón Saúl Sánchez — who led the organization Democracy Movement and staged Freedom Flotillas to the maritime border with Cuba.

RAMON b epf
Ramón Saúl Sánchez, the president of the Democracy Movement in Miami. PATRICK FARRELL pfarrell@miamiherald.com

The decision, delivered in 17 pages, left Sánchez in immigration limbo, his appeals of denials from past administrations all but exhausted — and on Trump’s long deportation list. He could be deported to the Cuba he left 52 years ago as a child into the hands of the government he fought in exile.

“Among the justifications for denying my residence were the Cuban Freedom Flotillas and the hunger strikes I carried out,” Sánchez told the Herald. “According to the officials, those activities were in confrontation to the United States. That is false. The only one I confronted was the Cuban regime.”

Nice work by Trump, the patriot, the anti-Communist warrior sanctioning the Cuban government, all but ending relations, and allowing Cuban Americans to sue Europeans and cruise ship lines for using stolen property.

Yes, I’m being sarcastic because that’s not the end of the story.

Do you think Sánchez blames Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration and his Make America White Again social experiment?

Nope.

“My request is that this situation be brought up before the highest U.S. authorities,” Sánchez

said, still hoping Trump will rescue him. “It appears there are officials still making decisions in line with [former President Barack] Obama policies designed to pander to the Cuban regime and neutralize activists.”

Reality check: Every administration has tried to rein in Cuban exile activists when they crossed a certain line. Has Sánchez forgotten the federal Omega 7 investigation that netted arrests in 1983 for terrorism under “Cuba sí, Castro no” chanting Reagan? He couldn’t have because Sánchez served four years in prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury on the case, the real reason he is denied residency over and over.

Yes, it was President Obama who, in his last week in office, removed the blanket Clinton-era “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed Cubans who reached the United States to legally stay. And it was Obama who signed a joint agreement with the Cuban government on Jan. 12, 2017, that allows immigration authorities to quickly deport Cuban nationals deemed “inadmissible” for whatever reason.

But Trump is happily putting discretionary deportation policy into practice.

And the only ones objecting and defending Cubans are Democrats like state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez and Obama’s former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs and now Florida International University professor Frank Mora.

Jose-Javier-Rodriquez-f.jpg
Rodriguez

The Trump administration, Mora said, “wants us to think that all Cubans being deported are criminals. That’s simply not true.”

If the deportees were all criminals, the administration would not have any trouble releasing to the Herald the list of deportees instead of asking us to file Freedom of Information requests that are never answered.

In their worship of the Trump cult, Miami’s Cuban-American Republicans have forgotten their people.

But deportation lists are bipartisan.

Here’s the description of a Cuban man facing deportation that the brother of a prominent Republican seeking my help to keep him here sent me in 2017:

“Cuban man has lived in US for over 30 years. Daughter is in US Air Force. He has a deportation date. He has lived here in Tallahassee for a very long time and been a model citizen. Arrested in early 80s for a fight today it would not be a felony.”

I called him Tuesday asking for an update on the case in light of the deportations.

Sen. Marco Rubio, not surprisingly because this case involves a GOP friend, interceded back then.

But what about all the other thousands of Cubans potentially on the same road to deportation?

Trump’s Cuba policy never made any sense.

For one, severely curtailing the presence of Americans has annihilated the explosion of U.S. influence on the island that shook things up during the Obama years. Trump played right into the hands of anti-reformist Cuban hard-liners and the Russians, who wanted the Americans out to regain their stronghold.

The policy only works for Trump politically.

He pleased a shrinking but faithful, conservative voting sector of the Cuban-American population that will help him win again in purple Florida.

But this latest chapter — the unprecedented massive deportation of Cubans to the island — is at odds with his hard-line approach.

How can you return people to a vile dictatorship you’ve heavily sanctioned and whose human rights abuses are in plain view everyday?

I don’t have a crystal ball.

But the deportations don’t bode well for Cubans on either side of the Florida Straits.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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