Renewed hopes but more delays for Cubans applying for US visas

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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 he could soon bring his wife and daughters join him.

Years later, the New Jersey mechanical engineer and his family back in Cienfuegos, Cuba, are still waiting — with a mix of renewed hope and skepticism — now that the Biden administration has announced it will reactivate the family reunification program, blocked for a long time. , which 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.

However, the covid-19 pandemic added to the complications.

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

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.

Thus, with the Cuban economy in a sorry state, an increasing number of people tried to reach the United States illegally, traveling to South America or Mexico and making their way perilously to the American border, adding to the record wave of immigration.

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 year before this.

Next to Triana’s house, Natacha Gonzalez, 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 for all the fathers and mothers who sacrifice themselves in this country so that there is a good [legal] migration of our families,” Gonzalez’s daughter, Yanelis Leon, said in a video call from Florida.

“I feel like I don’t have any oxygen. …I spent years on this, and it’s not fair that we’re still waiting,” she added. “I’m not going to involve my children in cross-border migration where I’m going to lose them. I want to do it right.”

Yanelis Leon speaks via video conference from the United States during an interview as her mother Natacha Gonzalez, who is caring for her two children, holds the phone on the doorstep of her home in Cienfuegos, Cuba, Thursday, 19 May 2022. Families separated between Cuba and the United States see hope in the measures announced by the administration of President Joe Biden, but the long wait of years and a network of political interests also make them skeptical. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Photo People wait their turn outside the United States Embassy the day after its consular services reopened in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 4, 2022. Members of families separated between Cuba and the United States see hope in the measures announced by the US administration of President Joe Biden, but the long wait of years and a network of political interests also make them skeptical. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Photo Danmara Triana shows her passport at her home in Cienfuegos, Cuba, Thursday, May 19, 2022. Triana’s husband and son have lived in the United States since 2015, while she and their two daughters remained in Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Photo Danmara Triana holds her mobile phone to show a live video image of her husband Roberto de la Iglesia, who has lived in the United States since 2015 with their son, during a video call with their daughters Alice and Claudia in Cienfuegos, Cuba, Thursday , May 19, 2022. Separated families see hope in the measures announced by the US administration of President Joe Biden, but the long wait of years and a web of political interests also make them skeptical. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Photo Danmara Triana shows the document, dated September 2017, that her husband used to initiate their family reunification process in Cienfuegos, Cuba, Thursday, May 19, 2022. Triana’s husband and son have lived in the United States since 2015 while ‘she and their two daughters stayed behind. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Photo Danmara Triana returns home after picking up her daughter Alice from school in Cienfuegos, Cuba, Thursday, May 19, 2022. Triana’s husband and son, who is Alice’s father and brother, live in the United States since 2015, while she and their two daughters stayed behind. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Photo Danmara Triana and her daughter Alice arrive home after picking Alice up from school in Cienfuegos, Cuba, Thursday, May 19, 2022. Triana’s husband and son, who is Alice’s father and brother, live in the United States since 2015, while they and another daughter remained in Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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