In his first week of office, President Donald Trump has taken a hard-line stance on immigration. But it’s his predecessor’s policy removal that has hundreds of Cuban immigrants in Latin American countries placing their hopes in President Trump.
They ask that the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that gave Cubans special immigration privileges be re-instated.
Cuban immigrants wait only steps away from U.S. soil, wanting to cross from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico to Laredo, Texas. According to local estimates, about 120 Cubans are staying in this border town located about 166 miles south of San Antonio.
"I left Cuba looking for a country of liberty,” said Chaday Sanchez, in translation from Spanish.
Sanchez is a Cuban immigrant who’s in currently in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, hoping to cross the border with her husband, Rodolfo Muñoz.
“(We’re) looking to work with dignity – live like people,” she said. “In Cuba, we don't have that."
The couple cannot cross the border, ever since former President Barack Obama ended the "wet foot, dry foot" policy a little more than two weeks ago. The name derives from a 1995 revision of the application of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. It allowed Cubans who made it on U.S. soil the privilege to enter without visas and pursue a residency a year later.
Sanchez and Muñoz said they traversed 11 Latin American countries over a period of seven months to try to make it to the U.S.
"We traveled through a jungle,” said Sanchez. “We went through hunger, cold, necessity, without clothes, days without bathing, risking our lives, assault … Police officers even assault us."
Now they wait at the intersection of Guerrero and “15 de Junio” streets in Nuevo Laredo, along with expecting mothers and others with children. The Cuban immigrants in Nuevo Laredo said church and immigration groups have been coming by regularly to feed them and donate clothes.
Some like Aleidis Sablon-Martinez have had families separated. His wife was allowed through to the U.S. before the policy change. However, he tried to cross the border too late. The policy had already been removed.
KVUE asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection for more information on the policy change, but a spokesperson said the organization was not doing interviews about the policy at this time.
Customs and Border Protection did provide a statement which explains in part that if a Cuban immigrant expresses a credible fear of return, they'll be processed, then turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Then they will be placed in a detention facility while a decision on their credible fear or asylum claim is pending.
Customs and Border Protection said in the statement, "the Cuban migrant makes their own decision whether to pursue their credible fear/asylum claim in the U.S. or to return to Mexico."
Cubans KVUE spoke with in Nuevo Laredo place hope in President Trump – that he re-instates "wet foot, dry foot."
"The plan now is to see if Trump gives us some opportunity to cross – at least those that are here,” said Rodolfo Muñoz in translation from Spanish.
Some fear their permits allowing them to stay in Mexico will expire, and they will be deported.
“No plans to return to Cuba,” said Muñoz. "Many of us will die if we were to go to Cuba."
For Muñoz and his wife, they look across the Rio Grande at a land they hope to live in – but are frustrated by the circumstances.
“We cry,” Sanchez said. “From where I sleep in the home for immigrants, I sleep looking at the window, and I see the lights of the United States. And honestly, it's hard."