MIAMI - Abel Gomez showed up one day last month at a U.S.-Mexico border crossing in Texas certain that immigration authorities would let him in, along with his wife and two children.
As a Cuban refugee, Gomez, 30, was indeed paroled into the United States under the wet foot/dry foot policy. But his Venezuelan wife Ocdalis, 22, and their Venezuela-born children - 2-year-old Abel and 6-year-old Winnelis - were immediately put in deportation proceedings in Texas.
Gomez is among the rising number of Cubans arriving via the Mexican border - 84 percent of all Cuban migrants came through Mexico, according to figures released Tuesday by Customs and Border Protection.
Those numbers have been increasing year by year as a result of intensified Coast Guard interdictions in the Florida Straits.
In fiscal year 2005, 8,994 Cuban migrants arrived in the United States - but the majority, 7,267, came in through the Mexican border. In fiscal year 2006, arrivals reached 10,329, with 8,639 showing up at the border.
The Gomez case illustrates the increasingly frequent detention of foreign families under tightened immigration rules post-Sept. 11. Prior to the terrorist attacks in 2001, undocumented families were generally released pending resolution of their cases.
But now they are detained to await a ruling by an immigration judge. On any given day, the government has the capacity to detain more than 600 men, women and children picked up along the border and in major cities, according to a February report on family detention issued by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
"I am saddened and deeply disappointed that immigration officials did not allow my wife and children to be free with me," said Gomez, now in Miami. "I feel anguished about them all the time. I don't know what's going to happen."
His immigration attorney, Eduardo Soto, has drafted a letter to Homeland Security asking that Gomez's wife and children be put on supervised release pending resolution of the deportation case.
Gomez's case opens a window to the growing number of mixed Cuban-Venezuelan families fleeing to the United States from Venezuela where President Hugo Chavez, an ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is steering the South American country down a socialist path.
It would have been difficult for Gomez and his family to qualify for U.S. immigrant visas because they don't have a business or close relatives in the United States who could sponsor them. Even if they qualified, the processing of regular immigrant visas in Venezuela could take years.
Gomez said he considered the possibility of traveling alone to the United States and then applying to bring his family. But that also could have taken years and he was fearful that a crisis in U.S.-Venezuelan relations would cut off travel.
"I didn't want children to grow up under a regime whose president has said will navigate in the same waters as Cuba," Gomez said.
The Gomez family's departure from Venezuela was filled with ironic parallels.
Gomez's family left Cuba for Venezuela largely to escape Castro's communism. Gomez was 6 when his parents moved to Venezuela. He settled near Barcelona in eastern Venezuela where he drove a vehicle transporting personnel and goods for a local business. His wife cooked and sold food.
Though Gomez became a naturalized Venezuelan, he kept his original Cuban birth certificate and had a Cuban passport on arrival at the U.S. border.
Under U.S. law, Cubans and immediate family members - even if they are not Cuban - generally qualify for permanent residence under the Cuban Adjustment Act. But the law only applies if the entire family has been paroled or admitted into the country.
Ocdalis and the children are considered stopped at the border awaiting admission.
The Gomez family began planning their journey north about a year ago. They boarded a plane to Mexico City on June 9. Two days later, they caught a plane to the border and once there took a cab to the international bridge between Reynosa, Mexico, and McAllen, Texas.
"I told the immigration officer that I was seeking asylum for my family and myself and that I was a Cuban," Gomez said.
Gomez was shocked when officers said his wife and children would not be allowed in.
Hours later, Ocdalis and the children were transported to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center near Austin, Texas, one of two Homeland Security detention facilities for undocumented migrant families.