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Cuba prospect sparks fears of deportation

More than 30,000 Cubans here could be deported if the two countries resume relations.

Published August 27, 2006

MIAMI - Jorge de Cardenas emigrated from Cuba in 1958, worked with a CIA-backed university group against Fidel Castro and spent years as a successful Miami lobbyist. He should have been overjoyed at news this month that Castro was finally handing off power.

But that change now casts a shadow over de Cardenas, 61. He spent a year in prison for obstruction of justice in connection with a 1990s Miami corruption scandal. Because of that conviction, like more than 30,000 other Cubans in the U.S., he would be eligible for deportation if the two countries were to resume relations, according to Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Under federal law, immigrants who have committed certain felonies are automatically deportable, but Cubans have long been exempt because the two countries lack a comprehensive immigration agreement.

De Cardenas said his wife, children and grandchildren, all U.S. citizens, worry about what will happen to him.

"My family, they talk about it all the time, the possibility that I could be deported," said de Cardenas, who is now a publicist and consultant.

A change in U.S.-Cuban relations could also spell an end to the minimum 20,000 visas Cubans are guaranteed each year, and it could kill the so-called wet/dry immigration policy, which generally allows Cubans who reach the U.S. to remain.

Department of Homeland Security officials declined to talk about future policy revisions.

"It's something we're not ready to discuss in public until the situation (in Cuba) changes," said DHS Joanna Gonzalez, who said the department is concerned that any statement it makes could spark mass migration from the island.

So far this year, the U.S. Coast Guard has interdicted more than 1,600 Cubans at sea, up slightly from last year. That includes about 100 who have been stopped since an ailing Castro temporarily transferred power to his brother July 31.

In response, President Bush earlier this month relaxed immigration rules for some Cubans while tightening them for those who attempt to come illegally.

De Cardenas wouldn't have to worry about deportation if he'd become a U.S. citizen, but he said he maintained his Cuban citizenship because he always hoped to return to the island.

His attorney, Linda Osberg-Braun, said he is not alone in opting not to become a citizen and thus leaving himself at risk for deportation.

"A lot of times it was because of patriotism and because they planned to go back. And sometimes they just didn't know what they were supposed to do," she said.

Orlando Boquete didn't have those options. The 51-year-old Cuban immigrant spent 13 years behind bars before DNA testing exonerated him from a 1982 sexual assault. But Boquete, who was released from prison Monday, also escaped from prison and admitted committing several felonies, including burglary, while he was a fugitive. Although ICE officials have agreed not to request his deportation, those crimes bar him from becoming a citizen, meaning he would remain at risk for deportation if the U.S. and Cuba renewed relations.

[Last modified August 27, 2006, 01:19:15]

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