A group of 11 Cuban immigrants being detained in South Texas are fighting deportation after alleging they were wrongly turned away while trying to enter the United States just before a long-standing immigration policy that allowed any Cuban who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident was rescinded.
Jorge Rivera, an attorney for the immigrants, said some tried to enter the U.S. from Mexico through the port of entry in Laredo under the so-called "wet foot, dry foot'' policy on Jan. 11 and were told to return the next day. Others tried to enter on Jan. 12 and were given appointments for later that day.
The "wet foot, dry foot" policy sent back Cubans intercepted at sea but gave those who reached land an automatic path to legal residency.
On the afternoon of Jan. 12, President Barack Obama announced the end to the policy as a part of normalizing ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
"We don't know if they were doing this on purpose and telling Cubans that came in the day before, in the days that led up to the change, to come on the day of the change because they already knew (the Cuban immigrants) weren't going to be issued'' permission to enter the U.S., said Rivera, who is based in Miami.
Rick Pauza, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said his agency can't comment on the administrative proceedings in any specific case but ``the matter has been brought to our attention, we are looking into it and will take appropriate action."
The change in policy forces Cubans to follow the same rules as immigrants from other countries and formally apply for legal immigration status.
Rivera is arguing the 11 Cuban immigrants qualified for entry under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy because they had entered the U.S. just before the Obama administration announced the end of the policy.
Irina Feijoo, whose husband Adalberto Agramonte Perez is one of the 11 immigrants being held at two detention centers in Laredo, said her husband entered the U.S. on the morning of Jan. 12 and was given an appointment for later that evening.
As he and some of the other immigrants were waiting for their appointments or were in the middle of being processed, an official told them the policy was rescinded and they would have to return to Mexico or be taken into custody, she said.
"The policy is to touch American soil, not to be processed. They touched American soil," said Feijoo, who entered the U.S. legally on Jan. 9 separate from her husband because of her Portuguese citizenship.
The couple had left Cuba in 2010 and lived in Spain until 2013, when they moved to Ecuador. They remained there until January.
Since December 2014, when Obama announced a new detente with Cuba, an estimated 100,000 Cubans have left the island fearing their privileged access to the U.S. might end. Many of those flew to South American countries and embarked on an overland odyssey to the Mexico-U.S. border.
Feijoo, 53, who is living in West Palm Beach, Florida, said she's hopeful her 52-year-old husband and the other immigrants will be released.
Rivera said he is also hopeful as he helped another immigrant, a Cuban woman who was also detained after being turned away from the Laredo port of entry on Jan. 11, gain her freedom in February. In that case, Rivera said he was able to verify the date of the woman's entry into the U.S.