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These Cubans fear deportation after recent court ruling

Juan Carlos Chavez, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in News & Features

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yusmier Mesa hasn’t lost hope, but he’s afraid.

He left Cuba four years ago and reached the United States by traveling through Latin America. It was a long and dangerous journey, similar to one that José Manuel Garces made.

Mesa and Garces don’t know each other, but they share more than one thing in common. Both Cubans were released by United States immigration officials after crossing the southern border with a form known as I-220A. That’s a form that allows the holder to have a temporary driver’s license and a work permit. But it doesn’t grant even temporary permission to remain in the U.S. for urgent humanitarian reasons.

Under a recent immigration rule, the I-220A designation may now become a ticket to deportation.

Cubans have long been granted immigration benefits under the 1966 Adjustment Act, which allowed them to apply for permanent residence after staying in the U.S. for over a year. But in early September, the federal Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that Cubans granted I-220As are not eligible to apply for such benefits.

The court’s decision has raised concern among Cubans, even though the ruling can be appealed and the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to change the status of such immigrants.


Mesa, who lives in New Tampa, feels his efforts to obtain humanitarian parole have been in vain from the moment he crossed the border on the morning of Aug. 10, 2021.

“The only thing they asked me is if I was afraid to return to my country,” said Mesa, 40. “‘Yes, of course,’ I said. What Cuban doesn’t have fear of returning to the island?”

Mesa said he has nightmares in which he sees himself being deported to Cuba. When he received the I-220A, he had no idea that it could pose a legal obstacle. Mesa sent his residency application anyway, one year and a day after arriving, but he hasn’t received a response. He got a work permit and holds a valid Florida driver’s license. A year and a half ago, he opened his own business.

“I still feel mentally imprisoned because there isn’t a single day when I wake up without thinking if I will be able to become a resident of this country,” Mesa said.


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