Cubans express new hopes of obtaining visas to join relatives in the United States

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CIENFUEGOS, Cuba — Like many Cubans before him, Roberto De la Yglesia left most of his family behind when he traveled to the United States with only his son in 2015, hoping to soon be able to bring his wife and his daughters join him.

Years later, the New Jersey mechanical engineer and his family back in Cienfuegos, Cuba, are still waiting — with a mixture of renewed hope and skepticism — now that the Biden administration has announced it will reactivate the family reunification program, which has been stalled for a long time. allows Cubans legally in the United States to bring next of kin.

“My life is on hiatus,” said his wife, Danmara Triana, sitting on the couch in her home in Cienfuegos, surrounded by aging photos of the couple’s life together. A few meters away, her daughter Claudia, 21, was waiting for Alice, 7, to return from school.

“My daily life depends on that, seeing my son, seeing my husband,” Triana said. The 48-year-old accountant said she repeatedly checks the website of the US Embassy in Havana for information.

“I get up in the morning and look at the phone. Will I have an interview (for a visa) or will I not have an interview? »

The Biden administration says about 20,000 applications for family reunification visas have piled up since 2017. That’s when President Donald Trump effectively ended the program by withdrawing diplomatic personnel from Cuba in response to a series of mysterious illnesses among diplomats that many suspected to be the result. of some sort of directed wave attack.

But many similar incidents have occurred elsewhere – even in Washington – and the CIA has now determined they are unlikely to be the result of attacks by Russia or other foreign adversaries.

Although the administration announced in April that it would begin resuming the program, it has not yet offered a timetable for bolstering the US diplomatic presence in Cuba.

So Triana and De la Yglesia are waiting.

US officials told the couple in 2017, shortly before the diplomats withdrew, that they qualified for the program and in 2020 they believed they had completed all paperwork and paid all fees.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, adding to the complications.

“I feel stuck. I’m not based anywhere,” said Claudia, who said she dropped out of medical school feeling “horribly demotivated”.

The diplomats’ withdrawal was just one of many steps taken by the Trump administration to isolate Cuba and reverse a dramatic opening of the island under President Barack Obama.

Trump has enacted more than 200 measures, ranging from banning cruise ships to limits on money sent from the United States to restrictions on American visitors.

Biden announced he would roll back some — but far from all — of the Trump-era restrictions.

With consular operations sluggish in Havana, US officials have told Cubans to apply for visas at operations in Guyana, across the Caribbean on the South American mainland – a costly and inconvenient option for most.

So, with Cuba’s economy in dire straits, an increasing number of people attempted to reach the United States illegally, traveling to South America or Mexico and perilously crossing the US border, adding to the wave immigration record.

US Customs and Border Patrol says it detained 79,800 Cubans at the US border in the six months from October 2021 to March 2022 – more than double the figure for the full 12 months ending September 2021 and five times the figure for the previous year. .

Next to the house in Triana, Natacha González, 61, lives with her two grandchildren. His daughter, like De la Yglesia, now lives in the United States and began the reunification process in 2017.

“I can speak on behalf of all the fathers and mothers who are sacrificing themselves in this country so that there is, can be a correct (legal) migration of our families,” González’s daughter, Yanelis León, said during of a video call from Florida.

“I feel like I don’t have any oxygen. … I’ve been there for years and it’s not normal that we’re still waiting,” she added. involving my children in cross-border migration where I will lose them. I want to do it right.”

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