Reunited: Couple seeking asylum together after separation by Homeland Security
Author: Erica Proffer, Joe Ellis
Published: 10:23 PM CST February 23, 2018
Updated: 10:23 PM CST February 23, 2018
DEFENDERS 6 Articles

A Cuban couple seeking asylum in the United States reunited after being separated by Homeland Security for more than three months. KVUE defenders first told you about Minna Abreu Garcia and Miguel Bruce Varona two weeks ago. Now, finally together on American soil, the two can plead their case for asylum together.


Reunited: Couple seeking asylum together after separation by Homeland Security

Chapter 1

The Separation

Twenty-three years ago when Miguel and Minna vowed to love each other through good times and bad, they didn’t expect it to be as hard as it has been. After decades of persecution by the Cuban government, the couple fled Cuba in late 2016 hoping to find a better life in the United States of America. They endured a rugged, year-long journey through 11 countries to get to the U.S. border in Laredo, Texas.

But upon their arrival, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security separated and detained Minna and Miguel. Soon after, the two were sent to different federal detention facilities more than 1,300 miles apart. Minna went to a facility in Taylor, Texas. Miguel ordered to a facility near Miami, Florida, alleging he had no government identification. Both Minna and Miguel had official identification, proof of marriage, and proof of persecution and torture in their home country.

On top of that, an American family in Round Rock, Texas (who had never met them) awaited their arrival, ready to sponsor and support them in going through the legal process of seeking asylum and U.S. residency.

Minna was released on “parole” weeks later, but Miguel remained in the Florida detention center for another two months.

Chapter 2

Minna’s Release

When Minna arrived to the Round Rock’s family home, she was met with a new way of life. Food was limited in Cuba. She and her family earned credits from the Cuban government. The credits bough five pieces of chicken, a dozen eggs and five pounds of rice each month.

In Round Rock, she was able to eat well-balanced meals every day.

But with as much gratitude she expressed for JJ and Angela’s kindness, Minna also felt sorrow for being away from her family.

“It’s sad because we’re very united,” she told KVUE news during the first interview.

She didn’t know how she would reunite with Miguel because Homeland Security place a $15,000 bond for his release.

Then, the family was notified the bond was set to expire. If not paid, Miguel may stay in Florida for the duration of his immigration hearings.

JJ and Angela pulled out their credit card, even though they couldn’t afford it.

Chapter 3

Miguel’s Arrival

JJ and Angela arranged for Miguel’s flight to Texas with last-minute notice from the federal government.

The plane touched down in Austin late last Thursday night, near Midnight. When Minna saw him she ran to him, crying with open arms. The two embraced for ten minutes before Miguel finally met JJ and Angela, who generously opened their home to Minna and Miguel.

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Miguel's Arrival

Minna and Miguel were beaten, persecuted, ridiculed. Then, they escaped Cuba. They spent more than a year running to our country for help. Then, got torn apart in the immigration process. Miguel is finally out of detention and able to plead his case of asylum alongside his wife. This is the moment he arrived back in Texas. KVUE

Posted by Erica Proffer on Monday, February 19, 2018

“It was amazing for them to see each other for the first time,” said JJ.

“We’ve gone through a lot to get here,” Miguel said after his arrival at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

“It was a hundred days I had him in my heart, in my thoughts. I suffered the same he was suffering,” said Minna.

James Johnson and Angela Huber promised to accept the couple in their home and help them after Miguel and Minna met Angela’s parents in Panama while on their journey to the United States.

“They touched my parent’s lives,” said Angela. “We knew how much they’ve gone through and if we were able to help, why not?”

But JJ and Angela said they didn’t expect things to unfold this way either.

“I think there are some steps in here that did lead to some unfortunate costs…honestly costs that shouldn’t have been there,” JJ said. “But sometimes doing the right thing comes with a cost.”

“It was a process, a lengthy process,” said Angela. “…just finally seeing him here and it was like ‘ok, check.’ We did it.”

Chapter 4

Questions Remain

So, why was Miguel sent to detention in Florida? He said DHS officials told him it was because he did not have official documents such as identification, even though he did.

He and Minna showed the KVUE Defenders their Cuban government issued identification, their marriage certificate, pictures of injuries sustained from torture, hospital records for the treatment of those injuries, scars on their bodies, and images of Minna being forced to sweeps and clean the streets where the two were forced to live after their home was taken by the Cuban Government.

Miguel said he also showed a document proving he first sought refugee status in Cuba years ago. In response to his request, Cuban government workers beat Miguel. He suffered broken bones and lost many teeth. He is still not able to bend his fingers because they were so severely broken and he did not receive adequate medical attention.

But apparently this information wasn’t enough for DHS officials to release Miguel on parole with Minna, pending their immigration court hearings.

“The only thing that they did was separate me from my wife with more distance,” said Miguel. “They wouldn’t give responses to anything.”

U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett saw the KVUE Defenders first story about Minna and Miguel two weeks ago.

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“I see no justification for separating Minna and Miguel,” said Congressman Doggett, who stepped in to help but DHS officials denied him answers. “We have no cooperation from them,” he continued.

So, the next day Doggett and 75 other members of Congress sent a letter to homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asking why her officers separate families.

Minna and Miguel are not alone. Several news reports document instances of immigrant families being separated by DHS. Miguel and Minna both say they encountered others in detention who were separated from their families.

“We will continue to work on this and see if we can get justice for these people,” Congressman Doggett said.

The letter from Doggett and the other members of Congress accuses DHS employees of separating families “for the purpose of punishing or deterring further migration.”

“We didn’t think it was going to be this way,” said Miguel, who received no help from government officials in being reunited with his wife.

Miguel also said the conditions and food quality at the detention facility were poor. He says he received a sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a drink twice a day. But thoughts of Minna, and prayers helped him get through.

“All of the entire time I was thinking of her and asking God to give me the strength,” said Miguel.

Minna said when she saw Miguel at the airport she noticed right away he had lost weight.

“I saw him so skinny, so desperate. I see that it affected his nerves,” she said.

Minna and Miguel say they are very thankful of the generosity of support they have received from JJ and Angela.

“All of the suffering that we’ve gone through since being our own country, all of the travesty, we found in them the light,” Miguel said.v

The night Miguel arrived, after finally seeing his wife and meeting the strangers who became their saviors he had one request:

“McDonald’s. I said Angela please take me because I want to try it, to eat at McDonald’s,” said Miguel.

And Miguel’s wish was granted. He says he enjoyed his first real American meal at McDonald’s.

Chapter 5

Next Steps

Through all the tears, the struggle, the pain, Minna and Miguel can now take a deep breath, relax, and fully realize they are not on their own anymore.

Minna has another hearing in March. Their immigration attorney will file a motion with the court to consolidate their cases.

Homeland Security officials told KVUE privacy Laws, prohibit the release of information specific to Minna and Miguel, even though we have their consent. Congressman Doggett tried to get that information about Minna and Miguel’s separation and was told the same thing. He has since obtained signed privacy release documents from them and submitted those documents to DHS.

Congressman Doggett’s office says the Department of Homeland Security has not yet responded to the letter he and the other members of Congress sent requesting its policies and incentives for separating spouses and families.

“Thanks to the Defenders for exposing this unfair ICE separation policy. Asylum-seekers with evidence of persecution aren’t numbers, they are people like Minna and Miguel, who should not be separated. Family values mean keeping families together. With a privacy release form signed by Miguel, I am now over one bureaucratic hurdle and will continue to press for answers, including a reimbursement for the big $15,000 bond,” said Congressman Doggett in a statement to KVUE.

Chapter 6


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 or call 512-533-2231.

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

Follow Joe Ellis on Twitter @JoeEllisATX.