A Cuban-American woman is leading the local mission to raise awareness about the plight of Cuban migrants in Latin America.
“There are over 2,500 Cubans across Central and South America in need of help,” said Real Estate Agent and Cuban Immigrant Advocate Hilda Valenzuela-Wendtland. “They’re hiding because they don’t know what’s going to happen to them.”
Valenzuela-Wendtland helped organize a small rally in front of San Bernardino City Hall on April 8 in coordination with other marches and rallies across the nation. The 51-year-old came to the U.S with her family in the early 1980s. She’s cited her own migrant experiences as motivation to help struggling Cuban migrants.
“My father was an outspoken Christian,” explained Valenzuela-Wendtland. “We were forced to flee our home and hide inside the Peruvian Embassy in Havana. We were forced to stand in feces and sleep in harsh conditions. My family and I didn’t speak on it for years because it was too embarrassing to mention. I’ve finally been able to stand up and say something. We don’t understand why President [Barack] Obama did what he did. We’re still trying to.”
Former President Barack Obama ended a long standing policy in January that treated Cuban immigrants differently than others. Known as the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy, it allowed Cuban immigrants to enter lawfully and apply for permanent residency after a year in the U.S. The new policy, which Obama signed off before leaving office, makes Cubans that enter the country without a VISA subject to deportation.
Cuban migration has surged since 2014–the year the U.S. decided to renew diplomatic ties with the Caribbean nation. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 124,000 Cubans entered the country in the last three years. They’ve traveled through Ecuador–a country known for its relaxed immigration policy–into Central America and Mexico.
However, some Latin American nations are now beginning to restrict Cuban immigration–causing migrants to be stranded or deported back to Cuba.
Valenzuela-Wendtland claims Cubans who return to the island will be imprisoned, tortured, or murdered on arrival.
In addition, the Redlands resident admits that Cubans in the past have not been sympathetic towards other Latino immigrant struggles. Nonetheless, Valenzuela-Wendtland is convinced people will get behind the Cuban cause.
“Cubans have never had immigration issues,” she said. “We’re now facing this for the first time in nearly 60 years. It’s a case of life and death for us. We’re begging for political asylum.”