Things That Matter

Trump Has Made It More Difficult For Cubans To Seek Asylum So Many Are Being Forced To Settle In Mexico

Among the dilapidated buildings in Downtown Juárez lies Little Habana, a new restaurant emblazoned with Cuban flags, classic car art, and blasting reggaeton music providing the local growing community of Cuban asylum seekers a reminder of home. 

NPR recently reported about the new eatery that owner Cristina Ibarra opened four months ago once she noticed the burgeoning Cuban community that’s developing in the area.

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She ran a taco business for 20 years before opening up a place that’s meant to evoke home for the refugees. 

“The Cubans leave their hotels and come to eat at the restaurant as if it were their own home,” Ibarra told NPR. “They stretch out, relax and talk. They share their experiences, their fears, their accomplishments … and that gives me tremendous satisfaction right now.”

The dishes are not interpretations but authentic recipes since all of her 14 employees are from the Caribbean island and advise her on menu items.

The menu includes traditional fare like ropa vieja, pork chunks in a tomato stew, and three different types of rice. Her efforts extend to the decor and interior as well with bright orange and yellow walls, art depicting a street scene in Cuba, and, naturally, the lone star amid the red, white, and blue of the Cuban flag hanging on the wall. 

The restaurant opening occurred around the time of a new policy introduced by the Trump administration nicknamed  “remain in Mexico” since it requires those seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed. Before the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy, those seeking asylum could reside in the U.S. while they waited. 

The number of Cubans at U.S. entry ports and categorized as “inadmissibles” by Customs and Border Protection continues to increase with more than 20,000 expected to seek entry this year.

In 2016 during the Obama administration,  the U.S. deported 64 Cubans but in 2018, the Trump administration deported 463 and this year that number will increase to 560, the LA Times added. 

So far this fiscal year, 6,312 Cubans have arrived in El Paso seeking asylum, whereas the previous fiscal year had 394, according to Custom and Border Protection figures 

“This is a terrible moment for Cuban migrants. There’s desperation and alarm because of the latest measures,” Yaimí González, a 41-year-old who fled Cuba three months ago, said to The Wall Street Journal.

“I just don’t see a solution to our situation,” González added. She now sells french fries at a stand in Ciudad Juárez making $10 a day, which barely pays for the guesthouse room that she shares with four Cuban male migrants, WSJ reports. 

Though MPP affects all asylum seekers, Cubans have historically received better treatment as they were viewed as political refugees.

For decades, Cubans caught at sea would be forced to return but if they stepped foot on U.S. soil they could stay and seek permanent residence after a year and a day. Obama ended the policy, known as “wet foot, dry foot” – in January 2017 and Trump has not reinstated it. 

Now the Trump administrations has banned U.S.-based cruise ships from traveling to Cuba, economically affected groups catering to tourists on the island, and he also imposed restrictions on sending money to the island. 

While they wait for a decision on their case, economics continue to plague Cuban migrants who find work where they can in order to pay for whatever housing they can find in what’s considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. 

NPR spoke with Melba, 32, a waitress at Little Habana who arrived in April and told them that she’s found meaning in her work as she tends to fellow Cubans who, like her, eagerly await to find out if they’ll ever make it to the U.S. 

She and her husband rent a hotel room for about $12 a day and she earns about $20 per day plus tips at the restaurant, NPR reports. This is in stark contrast to her life in Brazil, where she worked as a doctor for nearly a decade as part of a Cuban government exchange program, the LA Times reports. When she was asked what she’d say to Trump if she could, she told the publication, “In Cuba, there is no freedom like you live.”

As the Trump administration continues to make it harder for Cubans and fellow asylum seekers to gain admission to the U.S. and the economy on their island deteriorates, places like Little Habana provide not only a taste of home but a respite from the inhospitable treatment they otherwise receive outside the restaurant walls. 

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