14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 November 2016 – On Sunday, Donald Trump promised to repatriate up to three million undocumented immigrants who have had legal problems, to their countries of origin. This group includes 34,525 Cubans who have a deportation order for committing crimes and misdemeanors in the United States, along with thousands of others now in the legal process.
That figure may even be conservative, in the opinion of Wilfredo Allen, attorney and specialist in immigration issues. “In South Florida there are many Cubans. Every day we have new cases of convicted people who have a deportation order. In reality, nobody knows how many there are because the deportations don’t take place in the absence of an agreement with Cuba, but there are many more than 35,000.”
The vast majority of Cubans with deportation orders are awaiting an immigration agreement between the two countries to be returned to their country of origin, something that not even the administration of President Barack Obama has achieved.
Cuba, along with China, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Somalia, is one of the countries considered “recalcitrant” by the Department of Homeland Security in rejecting the return of its deported citizens. The president-elect himself noted, in a campaign rally in Phoenix in September, that up to 23 countries refuse to accept the return of their citizens expelled by the United States. “That will not happen to me,” said the then candidate without explaining how he would force the measure.
The Immigration and Nationality Act requires the State Department to cancel the visas of immigrants and tourists to these countries, but in practice it has only happened once, according to The New York Times. Allen considers it plausible that this is the mechanism that Trump will use as leverage.
“In the end, the injured party will be the Cuban government. If it maintains its position not to accept the deportees, a conflict could be established with the current administration. If they accept it, it comes to thousands of people who need to be reintegrated in the society, which involves a considerable effort and resources, which would have consequences on domestic politics,” he explains.
If the Trump administration opts for this measure, thousands of people would be affected. In 2014 alone, 54,286 Cubans received tourist visas to visit the United States, not counting the 20,000 emigrant visas awarded by the American embassy in Havana.
In 2014 Maria Luisa Suarez received a multiple-entry visa valid for five years, to visit her brother in Miami. Although she had planned to make the trip just for family reasons, the opportunity to bring goods to the island has multiplied her trips to the United States, and she now makes a living on this clandestine trade that sustains the Cuban economy. Once a year she takes advantage of the measure that allows Cuban citizens to pay taxes on imports in local currency (rather than in hard currency) and in the rest of her travels she manages to evade the controls, bringing everything from lighter parts to shoes, coffee and clothes.
Suarez makes one or two trips a month. In addition to buying cheap in Miami and reselling in Cuba, she is part of a network that sends remittances to the island “without charging a penny.” She explains she receives remittances from people’s families in the United States in dollars, and when she arrives in Cuba she pays the families in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), which allows her to compete with Cadeca, the chain the Cuban government maintains on the island to “collect” hard currency.
“With Trump now, this is going to be difficult,” she says fearfully.
A Cuban-American businessman with investments in Cuba explained, on condition of anonymity, that he does not believe that he will be able to continue his business under Trump. “These migratory movements are by agreement of both countries, but Cuba has made it known it does not want those people,” he says.
“If Trump did this it would lead to an extreme situation in Cuba. The country needs the United States now more than ever. In conversations far from the microphones, Cuban officials acknowledge it,” he adds.
The Cuban-American Juan Chamizo doesn’t think things will end in a disaster. He manages the Vedado Social Club, a project that promotes intercultural exchanges between the two countries. “Trump is a president who doesn’t come from politics, he comes from business and he knows how business works,” he says.
For Chamizo, responsible for concerts such as those of the musician Carlos Varela in Miami, the cultural exchange “is something that benefits both parties.”
“This way Cuba has been more exposed to the world and the people have seen what American culture is. I do not think Trump’s policy will change that,” he added. For the manager, economic interests will eventually prevail.
Lorenzo Palomares, a constitutional lawyer and active supporter of Donald Trump in South Florida, believes, however, that Trump’s threat is serious. “I feel fabulous that they will be deported,” he says.
“Cuba takes the spies when they’re discovered, but it won’t take the Medicaid thieves or the drug traffickers. Permanent residence is subject to good behavior. If you violate the laws you have to go back to your country,” he adds.
Palomares also agrees with the president-elect about the possibility of eliminating the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy, which Trump called “unfair” last February, in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times during his campaign.
In the 12 months of the fiscal year ended September 30, more than 50,000 Cubans arrived in the United States, as confirmed to 14ymedio by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, a state of affairs Palomares finds unacceptable.
“If Cuba wants anything to do with the United States, it had better accept [the return] its citizens,” he says.