Immigration

Feds deport 119 Cubans back to Havana on Miami flight

Miami Herald File

Immigration officials deported 119 Cubans back to Havana on Friday, in a flight that departed from Miami International Airport.

The Cuba repatriation flight is the seventh in the last seven months, according to ICE. The Trump administration’s efforts to detain and send undocumented Cubans back to the island got a boost in September, when the agency announced it successfully completed what it called one of the “largest” Cuba repatriation missions in recent history.

The size and nature of that “historic” flight — which deported 120 Cubans out of Louisiana — has now become the norm, some local immigration experts say, with recent repatriation flights regularly taking more than 100 Cubans back to Havana.

“That number is no longer a shocking number,” said Wilfredo Allen, a longtime Miami immigration attorney. “Years ago, people would gasp at this news. But now, there is no surprise that 120 Cubans are deported. It’s normal.”

Over the years, special privileges for Cubans have withered away. The White House has tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba, allowed lawsuits in U.S. courts against anyone that profits from Cuban properties seized by the Castro government and slapped sanctions on delivery of oil from Venezuela to the island.

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In fiscal year 2020, as of Feb. 24, ICE has completed 1,208 removals of Cuban nationals. In 2019, more than twice as many Cubans were deported than in 2018. In December, federal officials released the latest deportation statistics, which showed that 1,140 Cubans were detained nationwide during the 2019 fiscal year, compared to 463 in 2018. In 2017 there were 160 arrests.

The ICE data does not break down the deportation by state or region so it’s unclear how many Cubans were detained and deported from South Florida during its most recent flight, as well as the previous others. It’s still unclear whether the people on the Havana flight consisted of recent arrivals, or people who have illegally remained in the country.

“Yes, now we can remove Cuban nationals. That’s why you see the significant jump,” Acting ICE Director Matthew T. Albence told the Miami Herald late last year. “Cuba cooperates with us in issuing travel documents, which they didn’t previously do.”

The targeted deportation of Cuban nationals is just a small piece of the Trump administration’s plan to accelerate the deportation of undocumented immigrants, though the successful removals are the fruit of an agreement signed by both the U.S. and Cuban governments under former President Barack Obama in his last days in office.

The migration accord dated Jan. 12, 2017, mandates that Cuba has to accept all Cuban nationals who enter the U.S. as of that date, or who are discovered to have remained in the U.S. illegally.

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“The United States of America shall return to the Republic of Cuba, and the Republic of Cuba shall receive back all Cuban nationals who ... are found by the competent authorities of the United States to have tried to irregularly enter or remain in that country in violation of United States law,” the accord says.

The international deal is the same deal that terminated “wet foot, dry foot” — a decades-old policy that allowed Cubans who arrived on U.S. soil without visas to remain in the country and gain legal residency.

Despite the agreement, Cuba still has discretion to accept or reject Cuban nationals who immigrated to the U.S. before the migration accord was signed. Cuba has 90 days from the day they are contacted by U.S. officials to accept or reject taking back one of its citizens. If they are not accepted, ICE has no choice but to release the person back into the community under an “order of supervision,” where they would have to check in as many times as the government asks them to.

As of Aug. 31, more than 39,000 Cubans in the United States are facing orders of removal for criminal convictions or immigration violations. Most of those are living freely under orders of supervision, which require them to check in at least once a year.

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