14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | The Cuban freelance journalist Serafín Morán Santiago, who arrived at the United States border to ask for political asylum in April, will appear on Friday before a court that will decide whether to grant him bail. This Wednesday in Miami, organizations that promote freedom of the press declared that if he is repatriated to the island, Morán Santiago’s life will be in danger.
“Serafín had a trial fixed for October, but they have cancelled it and they announced this bail hearing. Fundamedios and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are worried about an eventual deportation to Cuba because of the Cuban government’s persecution of him,” said María Fernanda Egas, a journalist from Fundamedios, an organization that defends freedom of the press in the United States.
Morán Santiago is being held at an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility.
Egas explained that RSF and Fundamedios have been keeping an eye on Morán Santiago’s situation and they urge his immediate release. “He considers himself a candidate for parole because he was a victim of torture by the Cuban authorities, and he believes that bail would take away his possibilities of obtaining the political asylum that he seeks,” she added.
Cubans benefitted for more than two decades from the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy, which permitted their entry under parole to the United States if they stepped on US land. In January of 2017 President Barack Obama repealed the policy, and ever since Cubans have been treated like any other immigrant who arrives at the border without a visa, so now they can be deported back to the island.
The Zero Tolerance policy of the current Administration requires that political asylum seekers be detained while their cases are processed. Morán Santiago has spent four months in an ICE detention center and, although he successfully passed a “credible fear” interview, he still has to argue his political aslyum case, a long and complex process, according to lawyers.
“This is an opportunity for an immigration judge to grant bail and he can argue his asylum case from the street,” explained the immigration lawyer Wilfredo Allen to this newspaper by phone.
“A bail hearing is not a final trial, when the judge decides whether or not to grant political asylum. If he demonstrates that he won’t be a public charge for the United States and isn’t a danger to this country, they can grant him bail so that he can walk free. Otherwise he will have to remain in detention like the majority of asylum seekers until the definitive trial,” he adds.
Allen explains that it’s not the judge who grants parole, necessary to have recourse to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives permanent residency to Cubans who remain legally for one year in the country. The parole document is granted by an ICE official present in the detention centers.
“Bails can be as low as $1,500 or as high as $25,000,” adds Allen. If the judge doesn’t grant bail, Morán Santiago will have to remain in detention in Texas until the final trial where it will be decided whether he receives political asylum or not. The immigration attorney is skeptical of the possibility that Morán Santiago will be granted bail.
A judge imposes bail to ensure that the asylum seeker will appear at the final trial and will not remain undocumented inside the country.
In the last fiscal year, which ends in September, 364 Cubans have been deported to the island. Since January 12, 2017, Havana has committed to receive all Cubans deported by the American authorities for arriving at the border without a visa.
“Solidarity Without Borders has been helping Morán Santiago with his legal representation. We ask the help of the Cuban community in Miami and of the media so that it is known what is happening with this journalist,” he added.
Serafín Morán, 40, has worked as a freelance journalist for such media outlets as Univisión 23, Telemundo, Hispano Post, Primavera Digital, Cubanet, and TV Martí.
The reporter has said that he was threatened with death if he continued working as a journalist on the island, but the US Embassy in Cuba refused on two occasions to start a file to request asylum.
Morán Santiago left Cuba for Guyana and then crossed to Mexico, where he remained in a temporary shelter. As he has reported, he was harrassed by the Cuban embassy in that country. He appeared at the American border to seek political asylum in April and since then he has been waiting for a response to his case.
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