President Trump celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month today at the White House along with his wife Melania. During a speech to the press and attendees, Trump mentioned the number of Latino Medal of Honor recipients and the importance of standing up against the Communist regime in Cuba. He also took a moment to express his sadness about the mass shooting that happened in Las Vegas earlier in the week. And once again, Trump’s words raised a few eyebrows, just as they did during his trip to Puerto Rico.
After talking about the important relief work happening in Puerto Rico, Trump attempted to pronounce “Puerto Rico” in Spanish.
“We are also praying for the people of Puh-werto Rico,” Trump said with extra breathing to emphasize his Spanish accent. “We love Puh-weto Rico. Puh-werto Rico.” Then, with a smirk on his face, Trump added, “And we also love Porto Rico, heh.”
Those were the words Trump had for the island of people trying to recover from a devastating hurricane that all but wiped out the island. The same people Trump threw paper towels at during a four-hour visit earlier this week.
Trump also joked that some of the Latino leadership he interacts with are just too tough.
“You teach our children. You lead our churches. You protect our communities and you defend our nation. Among you are leaders in government, faith, and business. Fantastic people in this audience,” Trump said at the White House event. “I know some of them, and believe me, they’re very tough and they’re very smart. Sometimes they’re too tough. But that’s OK. I have to deal with it. I have to deal with it. Fantastic people.”
Trump’s Hispanic Heritage Month event would have been totally void of any immigration talk had it not been for this guy.
The man above has been identified as Freddy Burgos, a member of the Virginia Republican State Central Committee, who recently had to issue an apology for anti-Muslim and anti-immigration tweets. According to The Washington Post, Burgos called Islam a cult organized by Satan, compared Muslims to Nazis, and called District Judge Gonzalo Curiel an “anchor baby.”
That about sums up Trump’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration today.
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Cuban families on both sides of the Florida Straits were already on edge with last Friday’s announcement by the State Department that it was withdrawing the majority of its embassy staff from Havana and indefinitely suspending visas for Cubans applying to travel to the U.S.
CREDIT: A corner of Vedado, a neighborhood in Havana. Photo credit: Alex Zaragoza
Then, on Tuesday, the U.S. ordered two-thirds of Cuban embassy staff to leave Washington within a week.
These measures are in response to what the U.S. calls “sonic attacks” suffered by 22 U.S. diplomats stationed in Havana since fall 2016.
CREDIT: A political message located directly across from the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Photo credit: Alex Zaragoza
Although the State Department insists that diplomatic relations will continue with the island, and reportedly doesn’t believe the Cuban government is responsible for the attacks, these measures constitute a major re-escalation of hostility between the two nations.
The indefinite suspension of visas for Cuban relatives of U.S. residents and citizens is a huge blow for the Cuban-American community, many of whom sponsor visits from their parents, children or siblings.
Then, on Thursday, Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald reported that the U.S. would not reimburse visa application fees—which cost $160 for tourist, business or family visas—despite the fact that it was indefinitely canceling all previously arranged embassy interviews for applicants. According to the story, the State Department has stated that although Cubans are free to apply for U.S. visas at embassies in a third country, the fees already paid cannot be transferred.
Needless to say, the cost of visa applications is already prohibitive for most Cubans, who live on an average of $25 a month. On top of that, traveling to a third country to be able to apply at a different U.S. embassy is almost impossible, as Cubans are required to obtain visas for most countries in the world.
Cuban-born Carlos Rodríguez, who came to the U.S. in 2008 on a fiancé visa and lives in the Bay Area, helped his elderly parents in Havana apply for a non-immigrant visa to visit him in 2016, but they were denied. Cubans are rarely given an explanation for visa denials.
In fact, the rate of denial for Cubans applying for U.S. visas is the highest of all countries in the world — nearly 82 percent percent of applications were denied in 2016. Rodríguez and his parents were planning to apply again this year, but now that possibility has been shut down.
Athletes and musicians traveling to the U.S. to compete or perform will also be affected, as their visas are also processed through the embassy.
Rodríguez says, “Once again, it’s the [Cuban] people who will suffer, not the government.”
CREDIT: Cuban youth playing dice on the streets of Havana. Photo credit: Alex Zaragoza
The expulsion of Cuban embassy employees from Washington also threatens to severely curb the travel of Cuban-Americans to the island. This is because of a Cuban policy requiring Cuban-born U.S. residents and citizens to travel to the island with a Cuban passport. They must obtain a passport extension every two years, which is one of the main consular services provided by the Cuban embassy in Washington. At full staff, the process can take months. With a reduced staff, there is no telling how long it will take.
A Georgia-based source, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern of repercussions from Cuban government, also expressed distress over the State Department’s recent measures, particularly because the situation had gotten so much better since the Obama administration opened up diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Her Cuban husband now travels to Cuba five or more times a year to visit his mother, and sometimes they both go for a quick weekend trip. She contrasted her husband’s state of mind before and after the reestablishment of relations, noting that when he first got to the U.S. and was in the process of obtaining permanent residency, he was not able to return to Cuba for three years.
“It was awful, literally like torture,” she says. “And now, you know, it’s been so great because that trauma…started to really disappear.”
Many felt a sense of relief when travel to the island became easier and less expensive, especially Cuban-Americans who still have family on the island. It gave them great peace of mind to know that if their mother, father, child or sibling fell ill suddenly, they would be able to drop everything and go to Cuba.
This family in Georgia is one of the many Cuban-American families that have been blindsided by the evacuation of U.S. embassy staff from Havana. The source’s mother-in-law just had her visa accepted two months ago—after three previous denials—and was in the process of gathering documents for her follow-up interview. Now that all interviews and appointments have been indefinitely suspended, it’s very likely she will not be able to come to the U.S. anytime soon.
These stories represent just a few of the many thousands of families that will be adversely affected by the State Department’s drastic measures of the past week. They are a particularly bitter pill to swallow because of the many positive steps that have been taken in the past two years to improve relations. Cuban-Americans are strongly in favor of normalization, but these measures are undeniably a major setback.