• June 27, 2022
 Herald-Post Exclusive Part 2: 24 Hours with the Cuban Refugees – Hope, Help and the Unknown

Herald-Post Exclusive Part 2: 24 Hours with the Cuban Refugees – Hope, Help and the Unknown

For many of you, the arrival of the Cubans came as quite a surprise, as it did to the many groups now tasked with their care and assistance. (For those of you that may have missed part one detailing their arrival, you can catch up HERE.)

Along with their arrival came many questions: Why are they here? Why now? Who is in charge and where are the donations going? What’s next? Not surprisingly, those same questions are being asked by volunteers, aid workers, spokespeople and even the refugees themselves.

In this part of the story I hope to answer as many of the questions as possible, and bring you some perspective as to the entire situation.

I have personally spoken with Veronica Roman, Executive Director of Houchen Community Center, and they are asking that if you would like to donate items, what they are in need of is FRUIT, plenty of fruit, water, milk and potatoes. (Houchen Center 609 S. Tays St. 79901)

If you wish to contribute financially and have it be the used in the most effective way, you can call directly to the Tornado Bus Company and let them know you wish to donate to the Cuban Refugee account, you can donate any amount you like and that money will go directly to purchase bus tickets for the refugees. (Tornado Bus Company 915-351-9086 )

How long will this be going on? The defined amount of time has been set for 13 days, which may be completed by this weekend.

Where – exactly – are funds going and what is the city doing?

The City of El Paso reached out to the Houchen Community Center on day 10 of the Cuban Refugees arriving and offered support. They have made a daily call to the center as promised, they have added Sun Metro buses to transport arriving refugees during the nighttime shifts from 7pm – 6am, which is the heaviest time of arrivals. The city has also promised to be readily available for any list of needs.

The Diocese of El Paso, on day 10, added two additional hospitality sites, with a third one pending:

  • Roger Bacon Seminary which will primarily shelter single male travelers
  • St. Francis Xavier that will shelter families.

Both additional sites are located in an older community, with primarily elderly citizens, so volunteers will be greatly appreciated. One more is set to come on board this weekend.

As for any money, if anyone has donated through the Diocese’s GoFundMe donation page, that money will be available for Houchen to use. And as of Wednesday, aside from the GoFundMe account, there are no other monies (cash or checks) pending with the Diocese, except for one check kindly donated by one of the staff director’s family member.

Annunciation House – I have left several messages with staff  in hopes of speaking with Ruben Garcia, to ask how much money has been collected and how it is being distributed. My calls have not been returned.

Why the influx now?

Here is what I have gathered both from articles and speaking to the refugees themselves.  Before we begin, just know that this has been going on for decades, but what I am addressing is the “why” for this month and why the Borderland is seeing the influx.

Three major things happened that led to the current situation:

First, as of December 1st of 2015, Ecuador suddenly announced that they were going to demand Cubans now have visas to enter Ecuador. This was previously a non-visa country. Why did they suddenly start requiring visas?

“We decided to impose the visa requirement for Cuban citizens in order to discourage the flow of people seeking to reach the United States,”  – Xavier Lasso, Ecuador’s foreign minister [November 2015]

Second thing that happened, US-Cuba relations began to normalize. With the Obama Administration restoring ties, many Cubans fear that with the embargo lift, the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 which was established to help Cubans fleeing Cuba’s dictatorship, would be lifted as well. [more on Cuba’s migration]

“Nobody should be given preferential treatment,” said Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who visited the Cubans at the shelters in Costa Rica. “I don’t think it’s fair at all.” – [Jan 2016. The New York Times]

Thirdly, Ecuador lifted their previous visa requirement. With many of Central American countries opening and closing their doors to Cubans due to growing resentment of their (Cubans) preferential treatment over other Latin American migrants, and with current lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle asking for the Cuban Adjustment Act to be revoked; many Cubans get stuck in the crossfire, with the Ecuador entry way open again this may (potentially) be their last chance at freedom.


[photo by Yolitzma Aguirre]
[photo by Yolitzma Aguirre]

And while everyone continues to fight over laws and regulations, and who should be allowed to enter the states or not; humans continue to suffer and lives are made harder.

Cubans are risking everything they have to flee a Communist regime: They cross an ocean and begin a months-long trek across mountainous terrain, unknown territories, where predators await to pounce at every turn.

When I returned to the Houchen Community Center Wednesday night, there was a distinct sadness in their air, as I spoke to different volunteers, they told me of some of the latest refugees. One family, had to bury three children – all under the age of 10 – along the way, who did not make the journey to freedom.

Another woman told a story of how she and her son were finally able to save enough to purchase passage on a lancha.  As they speed across the ocean, there was shift in weight on the small boat and her son fell overboard and was lost in the waters, on their way to freedom.

Lastly, one woman’s body told the story of what happened to her.

As her husband struggled to get free and fight the man violating her, the other man threw his passport in the water. Taking what they wanted, the men left the couple. With the passport having severe water damage, her husband is unable to leave Panama with her.  Alone in a new land, her body violated and her husband thousands of miles away, that was the cost of freedom.

So what is waiting for these people who have paid the ultimate human price, that have endured so much, just to set foot in the “land of the free and home of the brave?”

More predators.

The situation at the ports of entry is something I did not expect to encounter, especially in this first world country. You’ll hear all about them and what the volunteers and law enforcement are doing to keep the migrants from being taken advantage of once again.

Yol-Itzma Aguirre

A little about me, I am a proud El Paso, TX native. I have built my career working in national media and both – national and Texas – politics. Most recently, I was selected as one of only a handful of Latina writers (chosen from across the nation) to participate in a storytellers cohort as part of the Yale School of Journalism. I love traveling throughout Texas, finding those interesting stories that are hidden in everyday conversation. I write about people, pop culture, politics and my Texas Latina life; proudly walking through the world with El Paso “nopal-colored glasses” on.

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