Time is running out for hundreds of Cuban migrants stranded on the Mexican side of the U.S. border who are waiting for any sign from President Donald Trump that help is on the way.
Many like Deyanira Parra, 32, of Hoguin, Cuba, have Mexican travel permits that expire in less than a week.
“We’re very nervous that we’re going to get deported,” said Parra, whose safe passage papers will expire on Sunday. “We haven’t heard anything from Trump. Every day is the same. Nothing is changing. ”
It’s an unsettling feeling for many of the Cubans, who sold most, if not all, of their possessions in Cuba to pay for the trip. Fears increased this week after news spread that 91 Cubans had been deported after being detained in Tapachula on Mexico’s southern border. In the past, they would have been released with the same 20-day transit permit that Parra received to allow them time to reach the U.S. border. But with the U.S. government’s termination of the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, Mexico deported them instead.
Thousands of Cubans were believed to be on the long journey to reach the United States from countries in Latin America when on Jan. 12 President Barack Obama abruptly ended the two-decade-old policy that had given Cubans automatic immigration parole just for touching American soil. More than 15,000 Cubans made the trek to the United States via the Southwest border in December, the most popular entry point for Cubans last year.
Parra arrived a day late. She had left Cuba two months ago for Guyana, then crossed through several Central American countries, including Panama, where she spent days in the Darien Gap jungle. She was detained by Mexican authorities for seven days at Tapachula after she crossed from Guatemala. She was released Jan. 9, with a Mexican travel permit that gave her 20 days to reach the United States.
Alejandro Ruiz, a Cuban entrepreneur who ran a safe house for Cubans in Laredo, Texas, estimates that about 250 Cuban migrants are stuck on the other side of the border in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
The vast majority of the group’s papers expire at the end of the month, according to Manuel Reyes, 37, a stranded migrant who’s turned into an unofficial spokesman for the group because he speaks English, which he learned working in Cuba’s hotel industry. He understands the new president has many priorities to address in his first few days, but he hopes Trump will agree to let the Cubans in by the end of the week.
“We know there is a lot of stuff going on – probably too much for him to take care of us now,” Reyes said. “We still have faith that Trump will do something.”
Trump is not expected to reinstate the special immigration status for Cubans. Last year, he called “wet foot, dry foot” unfair. He’s issued no statement on the policy since Obama abandoned it.
Reyes said the vast majority of stranded Cubans would rather remain in Mexico than return to Cuba. But it’s unlikely the Mexican government will allow them to do so. Mexico's National Immigration Institute put 20 women and 71 men on a federal police airplane and flew them back to the island after the Cuban government accepted their return.
Whether Mexican authorities will do the same with the migrants now in Nuevo Laredo is unknown. A query about the government’s plans wasn’t responded to immediately.
Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead negotiator in talks with the United States, said the Cubans in Mexico now would be allowed to return to the island. Cuba “will continue to guarantee the right of Cuban citizens to travel and emigrate and return to the country in accordance with the requirements of our migration law,” she said.
But Parra worries that the government will make problems for her and others if they’re forced to return to their homeland:
“I can’t go back.”