The United States Accidentally Reveals the Identity of 46 Cuban Asylum Seekers

The exodus from the Island to the United States through the Central American route “of the volcanoes” has already exceeded the figure of 220,000 Cubans. (Reinaldo Escobar/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 December 2022 — An indiscretion from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) has compromised the situation of 46 Cuban asylum seekers in the United States. At the end of November, the institution accidentally published a list of 6,252 immigrants in ICE custody that included sensitive information about their identity, dates of birth and immigration status.

The severity of the incident increases considering that the Cubans listed were part of a group of 103 people about to be deported to the Island. The Cuban government, consequently, will receive these citizens knowing that they requested international protection in the United States.

In an apology note published on November 30, ICE reported that a document was “wrongly” published on its website, during “routine updates.” The text, which was available for five hours, was removed as soon as notification of the incident was received. “Although it was not intentional,” the report states, “this disclosure is a violation of policies, and the agency is investigating the incident and taking all the necessary corrective actions.”

According to several emigration officials as told to the US newspaper Los Angeles Times, the disclosure is, in practice, a delivery of data by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to the Government of Havana about the 46 asylum seekers, who sought federal protection against persecution and torture in their country.

They added that ICE is trying to prevent the regime’s possible reprisals against these citizens and has decided to delay the deportation of the 103 Cubans and has even considered releasing them from federal custody. In addition, those affected will be given the opportunity to renew their asylum applications and contact their lawyers.

Deportation to the Island would be a “nightmare scenario” for the Cubans, said Robyn Barnard, associate director for the Defense of Refugees at the Human Rights First organization. According to Barnard, those affected also risk their families on the Island being harassed by State Security.

The usual practice is to keep any information about asylum seekers strictly secret. “And we are not talking about just any foreign government,” Barnard said, “but about a government that, according to irrefutable evidence, systematically arrests and tortures its opponents.”

Anwen Hughes, director of legal strategy at Human Rights First, acknowledged that “nervous” asylum seekers seek the services of the NGO, as they fear that their relatives will be arrested when their petition is known. That is why the US Government should ensure confidentiality in the processing of its information, he told the Los Angeles Times.

In addition, Cubans are not alone in the consequences of this indiscretion, as they are part of the more than 6,000 migrants who appeared on the list and who had also claimed to suffer “persecution and torture” in their countries of origin.

This is a scandal that concerns, in the first place, the U.S. National Security institutions, since the information disclosed by ICE had to be treated as secret by those responsible for the incident.

A few weeks before the list of asylum seekers leaked, Reuters revealed that the Cuban government again accepted the deportation by air of migrants detained at the border with Mexico, although it assured that it would only apply to “occasional groups.”

The Biden administration saw the measure as a “new but limited tool to stop the number of Cubans crossing the border,” three anonymous US officials told Reuters.

At that time it was learned that the ICE held a dozen citizens of the Island who were denied asylum. In less than a month, the number rose to 103. The exodus from Cuba to the United States on the Central American route has already exceeded the figure of 220,000 Cubans.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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