ICE Put 120 Cubans on a Flight to Havana in Major Deportation Ramp-Up

The Trump administration deported 120 Cuban immigrants in one fell swoop last week, even though many had passed credible fear interviews and said they would face violence and persecution if they were sent back, the Miami Herald reports.

The large-scale deportation marks a turning point in U.S.-Cuba relations regarding the deportation of Cuban immigrants, and officials say it’s just the beginning.

All 120 people were put on a single flight from New Orleans to Havana on Friday, making it one of the biggest Cuban deportation efforts in recent years. But many of those who were sent back passed credible fear interviews, the first step in the asylum process, the Herald reports. Passing these interviews doesn’t necessarily mean one qualifies for asylum, though; it just means they get to apply for it.

“These are all individuals subject to removal under federal law whose cases were adjudicated and persons determined to have no lawful basis to remain in the United States,” an ICE spokesperson told VICE News.

The U.S. and Cuba signed an agreement in January 2017, during the last days of the Obama administration, requiring Cuba to accept all of its citizens who are deported from the U.S. or who are in the U.S. without authorization — a drastic shift from the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that granted legal protections to virtually all Cuban migrants who set foot on U.S. soil.

But the agreement doesn’t require Cuba to accept anyone the U.S. wants to deport. Instead, the Cuban government has 90 days to decide whether to accept a deportee. If they don’t, ICE can’t deport them. There was at least one other immigrant who was scheduled to be deported that day but was taken off the list at the last minute because of a “paperwork glitch,” according to the Herald’s report.

“The large removal charter is made all the more significant given Cuba’s longstanding status with respect to accepting the return of Cuban nationals ordered removed from the United States and abiding by key provisions of the U.S.-Cuba Joint Statement. Cuba has a long history of being deemed an uncooperative country,” an ICE spokesperson told the Herald.

The recent deportation was just the beginning, two federal sources told the Herald. There are more than 37,000 Cubans in the U.S. with deportation orders, many of whom are required to check in with ICE a few times a year. But attorneys told the Herald that a growing number of people are being arrested during these check-ins.

*story by Vice