Cuban migrant granted asylum now being held by ICE in South Texas

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Asylum-seeker apparently caught in legal loophole

AUSTIN, Texas (Border Report) — A Cuban migrant who on Wednesday became one of the rare remain-in-Mexico cases to be granted asylum is now being held in a federal detention facility where he could remain for up to 30 days, his lawyer told Border Report.

Lawyer Cathy Potter said although a U.S. immigration judge granted her client asylum, federal officials can hold him for up to 30 days, which is the timeframe the government has to appeal the asylum case. Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement are now holding him at a detention facility in Port Isabel, Texas, Potter said Thursday afternoon.

Because so few migrants — who are forced to remain in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program — are actually granted asylum, immigration advocates say the detention of this man during the appeals process is just as rare.

The Trump administration in mid-July implemented MPP in South Texas. The policy was started in El Paso in 2019, and over 60,000 migrants have since been forced to remain in Mexico during their asylum hearings, Department of Homeland Security Acting Commissioner Chad Wolf has said.

A report last month by the San Diego Union-Tribune found that less than 0.01% of MPPs along the Southwest border are actually granted asylum — that was just 12 out of 47,000 cases studied in 2019.

The man’s name is being withheld because Potter said he and his family would be “in danger” if authorities in Cuba were aware he was granted asylum. He had been waiting for months in Matamoros, Mexico, before appearing in the judicial tent court city Wednesday in Brownsville.

“He was granted asylum by an immigration judge who issued an excellent, well-written and factual decision. But ICE reserved appeal,” said Potter, a lawyer from Harlingen, Texas. “My understanding is the policy is that they appeal all cases so the decision is not final due to a possible pending appeal.”

ICE, however, has not indicated whether or not it will appeal the case with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals. The agency has 30 days to do so. In the meantime, because the man is “an arriving alien,” he has no legal right for a bond hearing, Potter said.

“We have very little recourse because he’s an arriving alien,” Potter said. “If ICE decides to detain him you cannot ask an immigration judge for a bond hearing.”

Potter said she is preparing a packet to submit to the court explaining that the man has a sponsor in Washington, D.C., and that he will adhere to all U.S. laws, but, for now, he appears to be in a legal loophole that is preventing him from roaming freely in the United States.

And that angers immigration rights advocates like Efren Olivares, who is the Racial & Economic Justice program director for the Texas Civil Rights Project based in South Texas.

Efren Olivares is racial and economic justice program director for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

“It’s not a new policy but it’s distressing because they are doing it to someone who has already gotten asylum and that is very disturbing,” Olivares said.

Olivares said because there have been so few MPPs actually granted asylum, this man’s case could signal a new process by which federal authorities are treating them going forward.

“There just hasn’t been enough cases granted to know,” Olivares said.

On social media, immigrant advocates often post about his case — the Cuban who won his asylum after several court hearings. Since he was first turned away at the Gateway International Bridge last May, he has lived in the migrant tent camp in Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville. When his number was finally called on July 19, MPP had been implemented and he was placed in that program, Potter said.

Helen Perry runs the Global Response Management medical facility at a refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico. She is seen in this Dec. 21, 2019 file photo. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Since then, he has waited on the other side of the bridge, often helping at the migrant refugee camp and working in the medical trailer operated by Global Response Management, medical director Helen Perry said. He has become a popular fixture in the camp and social media lit up with condolences and questions on Thursday after his detention.

Potter said ICE held him overnight in Brownsville, but on Thursday transferred him to Port Isabel.

Border Report will continue to follow this case and update with more information as it becomes available.

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

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