Cuban Deportations And What They Mean For Florida
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
A hundred and twenty Cubans were deported on a plane back to Havana last week, one of the largest Cuba repatriations in recent history. And meanwhile, more and more Cubans are showing up at the southern U.S. border and being turned away. It's a dramatic shift for a community that was once given preferential treatment as part of the U.S. fight against communism and Fidel Castro.
Rebeca Sanchez-Roig joins us now to talk about how this is impacting the politically vital Cuban American community in the swing state of Florida. She's a managing partner of an immigration law firm in Miami, Fla. She's also a former long-term deputy chief counsel with the Department of Homeland Security.
REBECA SANCHEZ-ROIG: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the fortunes of Cubans changed under two successive administrations, right? President Obama rescinded the wet foot, dry foot policy, which allowed Cubans to legally stay in the U.S. if they touched U.S. soil. And now President Trump is deporting Cubans back to Cuba. What is going on right now?
SANCHEZ-ROIG: Well, I wish we knew. We knew when President Obama left office that there was the joint agreement of 2017 and that those Cubans that were inadmissible could be repatriated, deported to Cuba. But we thought that the majority of the deportees, if they did happen, would indeed be criminal Cubans. That is not what we see happening now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, explain that a little bit. First of all, what have you seen? I mean, the Trump administration does say that people being deported are criminals or at least have some sort of criminal offense against them. But what are you seeing?
SANCHEZ-ROIG: I speak with immigration officers regularly, and I think even some of them aren't quite sure who's actually being deported. We can't get a fair response to whether they're all criminal Cubans that are being deported, and we don't think that they're all criminal Cubans that are being deported.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What could this mean politically for Cubans who are returning home?
SANCHEZ-ROIG: It is a communist country. There is no freedom in Cuba. There are no constitutional rights. And so the only rights that exist in Cuba are those of the government to do whatever they want to with whomever they want to and whenever they want to. Imagine this. You are repatriated, deported to a country that knows and will find out that you made a political claim against them in the United States, and you allege that you were persecuted. How does one think that the Cuban government is going to handle this?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So before, this would've been incendiary for the Cuban American community, sending Cubans back to communism. But as was noted in a recent op-ed in the Miami Herald, Republican lawmakers like Marco Rubio seem to be pretty quiet about what's going on. Why do you think?
SANCHEZ-ROIG: Yeah, that's an interesting issue. And I'll say this. I think that a lot of Cubans and a lot of individuals that are in the country right now think of this new generation of Cubans as being inferior to them, being below them. It's regrettable, but the years of communism have changed who we are and who we were as a people.
I do believe, however, that there are still sufficient hard-liners and GOP hard-liners that may have backed the president at his first election that are going to be unhappy about this and may not back the president in his reelection bid. But individuals such as - or Marco Rubio, who has been supported by our community, I mean, has really not spoken of this. I think that there are only a handful of individual - our representatives ever spoken about this, and most of them are Democrats. The Cubans, and especially the Cuban American Republicans - many of them have forgotten who they are, and they've done so because at this point, they have chosen Trump over their own people.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rebeca Sanchez-Roig is a Cuban American immigration lawyer in Miami, Fla. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
SANCHEZ-ROIG: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.