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Day 5: Cubans, no longer preferred, are stuck at US-Mexico border

March 27, 2017
Cubans eat dinner at the migrant shelter "Casa del Migrante" in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, Saturday, March 25, 2017, across the border from Laredo, Texas. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Cubans eat dinner at the migrant shelter "Casa del Migrante" in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, Saturday, March 25, 2017, across the border from Laredo, Texas. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Strange currents often collide at borders.

Picture this: A few dozen Cuban migrants whose efforts to reach the U.S. have stalled at the border in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, are publicizing their plight with a twist on the Catholic procession called the Stations of the Cross. As they trudge through the streets, one plays the role of Jesus, with a bloodied face and lugging a big wooden cross. About midway through the procession, they stop in front of the state migrant assistance office that stands directly opposite an international bridge across the Rio Grande to Laredo, Texas.

And just then another group barges through their ranks: Mexican immigration agents lead about 20 just-deported Mexicans from the bridge to the immigration office, offering help to the returnees. They trudge in a line grasping small bags of their possessions. Many of those same deportees wind up at the same church-run Casa del Migrante shelter that houses some of the Cubans.

Some of the Cubans have been stuck here since then-President Barack Obama on Jan. 12 ended the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy that had given Cubans a privileged path to the U.S. Until then, nearly any Cubans reaching U.S. soil had the right to stay. Now they are treated like migrants from other nations, facing a much tougher barrier. Some here estimate there could now be 1,200 Cubans in the city, though Mexican officials say about 600 have started the process for residency in Mexico. Many leave the shelter each day to work in restaurants or on construction sites.

Maite Silva Cruz is 30 years old, quick to smile and chatty. She and her husband arrived 10 days ago after this three-month odyssey: Cuba to Guyana to Venenzuela to Colombia to Panama to Costa Rica to a boat that took them around Nicaragua to Honduras to Guatemala to Mexico. They had been trying to get out of Cuba for years, seeing no future for themselves. Last year, Cuban authorities caught them four times trying to board boats for Florida. The Havana woman said they were jailed and then followed closely by undercover police.

Silva was playing Mary, Jesus’ mother, in the procession and she didn’t see the Mexican deportees walk through. But others told her later. She’s been watching them arrive at the shelter for days and it makes her sad. “If he (President Donald Trump) is kicking them out or cleaning ... his country of all these people, what is left for us?”

Ramiro Guzman, a short man with a trim grey mustache, was one of the deported Mexicans who walked through Silva’s procession. He’s a 54-year-old from Monterrey, who has lived in the U.S., most recently in Baytown, outside Houston, for 32 years. He was arrested on a drunk-driving charge and deported after five months in detention. He said he left behind his wife, three U.S.-born children and decades of work in refineries and chemical plants.

Guzman is shocked to find himself in a Mexican shelter full of Cubans. “The poor guys have nowhere to go,” he says. On the patio with a view of Texas where Cubans smoke, energetically debate the origins of Cuban dishes _ and any other topic that occurs to them _ a few ask Guzman about his story.

They want to know how long he was in the U.S., how he got caught, what he did for work. They marvel at his story.

“Thirty years in the United States?” one asks. “Thirty years without papers?” says the other.

“They don’t know what is going to happen for them,” Guzman says. “They have families of little ones, kids. They don’t know where they’re going to go.” Immigrants from two countries with very different stories share bunk space in Nuevo Laredo and struggle to imagine their next moves.

Silva says a return to Cuba is not an option. Of all the countries they traversed, Panama and Mexico seemed the most like places they could settle, but she hasn’t given up on arriving in the U.S. She says Cubans are still arriving in Nuevo Laredo, encouraged by others who hope that if they build a critical mass, they will force governments to take action.

Guzman, wearing a donated oversized T-shirt from Mexico’s tax authority, waits for his wife, a legal U.S. resident, to drop off a suitcase of clothes. Then he’ll head to Monterrey and see what kind of life he can pull together. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to find a good job at his age. He doesn’t have a home there. In Texas, he left a house, his truck and his family. He’s older now and doesn’t know if he could survive being smuggled into the U.S. and he fears being thrown in prison if he does

“I don’t know what to do. In Mexico I don’t have anything,” he says.

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