;
Minna's journey: A mother's fight to save her family
Author: Erica Proffer, Joe Ellis
Published: 11:24 AM CST February 8, 2018
Updated: 12:18 PM CST February 8, 2018
DEFENDERS 4 Articles

A Cuban mother is fighting to bring her family together and seeks asylum here in the United States. She claims that Cuban government workers persecuted her family for decades.

New Cuban immigration policies make it harder for asylum seekers to stay in to the U.S. and legally establish permanent residency.

Before President Barack Obama left office, he ended what was dubbed the “wet foot/dry foot” policy for Cubans, which allowed all Cubans who reached U.S. soil a one-year path to become a permanent resident of the U.S. Now, a Cuban migrant is treated like any other migrant.

EXPLORE

Minna's journey: A mother's fight to save her family

DEFENDERS
Chapter 1

MINNA ABREU GARCIA

Minna once only imagined the family dinners she enjoys in the Round Rock home of James Johnson and Angela Huber.

Poverty, hunger and abuse ruled her family’s life in Cuba. Food had to be earned with credits from the Cuban government. She received five pieces of chicken, a dozen eggs and five pounds of rice each month.

Minna saw the power of communism first-hand. She said the government took her family’s home and turned it in to a government-operated television and radio station. Her father’s small car-washing business became property for the Cuba Ministry of Education.

Minna and her husband, Miguel, spoke out against Fidel Castro. They wanted freedom. They wanted to live life on their own terms. They wanted peace.

“You have no rights in Cuba,” Minna said.

Their fight almost cost them their lives on several occasions. Minna tried to get her family’s property back, but the government denied it.

Every year on Fidel Castro’s birthday, government workers demand money from citizens. Minna and Miguel refused to pay. She said she was tortured, beaten and forced to sweep the streets in her neighborhood as punishment.

“They came to my home to kill my son, my husband and me,” Minna told KVUE.

Minna’s only son is a baseball player. He wanted to leave Cuba to play professional baseball in the U.S. Minna said police imprisoned her son for it.

She, again, spoke out publicly against her son’s imprisonment. Government workers beat her again. Head injuries required surgery.

Chapter 2

LEAVING CUBA

Minna and Miguel decided to risk it all and flee Cuba for the U.S. They hoped to become residents and fight for the release of her son here. She said it was a painful decision.

“It’s very hard. It’s all of my heart, all of my thoughts. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I can’t even live … thinking that my son’s life is in danger,” Minna said through tears.

She and her husband left their home in late 2016 when Cubans were still automatically eligible for asylum in the U.S. Their journey proved difficult. They flew on the only flight they could get to Guyana, South America.

At the mercy of others to guide them, along with other migrants, the couple trekked through rugged terrain, canoed rivers in dangerous jungles and slept in tents.

Photos: Minna's Journey

Once Minna and Miguel reached Panama, they slowed down and found work to help pay for their journey. Still sleeping in tents, they met Huber’s mother, Nelly.

“They became friends … became very, very, close,” said Angela Huber, who lives in Round Rock, Texas, with her husband, James Johnson, and son, Nicolas.

When the Panamanian government told Cubans to leave the country, Nelly told Minna, “Go to my daughter in Texas.”

Chapter 3

ENTERING THE UNITED STATES

In all, it took more than a year for Minna and Miguel to reach the American Port of Entry at the International Bridge in Laredo, Texas. They were excited. They felt safe.

“Here in the United States, I’m not running from danger,” Minna explained.

Homeland Security officers split Minna and Miguel apart. Days passed with no communication.

“I had the proof to present … all of the persecution, all of the proof of the torture. The operation from the head trauma,” Minna said.

Immigration officers released Minna from detention but sent her husband to a facility in Miami.

Immigration attorney Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch of Austin said that’s not uncommon.

“I consistently hear heartbreaking stories of families seeking asylum coming in to the United States, placed in a Border Patrol holding facility and they’re separated. They’re not told what’s happening to their family members,” she said.

Lincoln-Goldfinch leads the fight for Minna. She also said Minna and Miguel should be able to go through the asylum process together.

“It seems to me that Minna and her husband should have been treated equally. They both should have been paroled out and allowed to seek their asylum cases,” said Lincoln-Goldfinch.

Minna and Miguel have the same set of facts, but for now, must face different immigration courts. The couple’s cases cannot be combined unless Miguel meets his bond and a court allows them to consolidate. Lincoln-Goldfinch said that’s what she hopes to accomplish.

The asylum grant rate is less than 15 percent nationwide based on the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“It’s really easy for people to say we need to shut down our borders and not let anyone come in to our country, we have enough problems as it is. But when you see a face of someone and what they’ve suffered and what they’re going through, it really helps place an understanding as to who these individuals are,” Lincoln-Goldfinch said.

“What would you say to someone who says they should try to come in the legal way,” KVUE’s Erica Proffer asked Lincoln-Goldfinch.

“This is one of the legal ways to come in,” she responded. “This is the only way.”

Minna said she did not come here looking for a free ride. She wants to become a citizen and contribute to our society and the economy.

“I would like to study. I would like to work. I would like to be integrated into society, with the law, with the constitution, with all that I couldn’t learn in the country I used to live,” Minna explained.

Hope is her light shining in the darkness.

“It just makes you realize what this country was founded on. This country was founded on hope …people looking for a better life,” said James Johnson. “It’s amazing to see a smile on her face … a person who has the right to be angry at a lot of things and she chooses to be happy every day. It’s amazing. It’s powerful.”

James and Angela are proof that you don’t need a bloodline to have a family. In their home, Minna feels at home. And all she wants is for the U.S. to be her home.

“My life, my son’s life, his (Miguel’s) life, depends on this country,” said Minna.

Minna goes to immigration court Monday where a judge will decide if she can start a path to permanent residency or if she needs to plead her asylum case.

Chapter 4

RESOURCES

Cubans cannot apply for a visa from inside their county. The U.S. Embassy in Havana has suspended all visa services except for medical emergencies.

To learn more about the immigrant visa process, tap here.

To learn how to obtain permanent status in the United States, tap here.

For non-governmental groups who helps migrants, tap here, and here.

For immigration attorneys, tap here.

If you have a story tip for the KVUE Defenders to investigate, send an email to defenders@kvue.com or call 512-533-2231.

Follow Erica Proffer on Twitter @ericaproffer, Facebook @ericaprofferjournalist, and Instagram @ericaproffer.

Follow Joe Ellis on Twitter @JoeEllisATX.