T. Rafael Cimino's Blog - Posts Tagged "illegal-aliens"

In Miami the airwaves are alive with the hypnotic beat of Power 96 Radio and its star DJ/Co Owner, Lazaro Mendez, a guy who walks with a profoundly altered gate and has the nickname, “The Pimp with a Limp.” He’s a colorful character and tells a bigger story about American Immigration than his Cuban heritage would suggest.

In 2008 Lazaro was awakened from a sound sleep by an early morning phone call. Months prior, the popular radio talent and world renowned music producer, had purchased a $ 175,000 powerboat with his brother, keeping it at their Florida Keys weekend home in Key Largo. One of the options that had been suggested by the boat-broker was a GPS activated theft tracking recovery system; a device that was designed to call-in should the boat ever be stolen. Now, as most of South Florida slept, Lazaro’s phone was ringing - an unwanted call from an unlikely entity - his new boat.

According to Lazaro, he immediately alerted the Coast Guard, Sheriff’s Department and Florida Marine Patrol. It was useless; the calls proved futile as the different agencies advised him that there was nothing they could do. Regardless, the Cuban American continued to watch the GPS signal on his lap-top computer. The system on his stolen boat sent back continuous satellite messages about its position, speed and heading. What he would learn later was that two Cuban Nationals had stolen the triple outboard center console boat and, as he tracked the blinking dot on his computer screen, they were making a bee-line course across Florida Bay toward Pinar del Rio, Cuba.

For most, the story would have stopped there, ending the mishap with a phone call to an insurance agent. The boat was, after all, properly covered with a generous policy and Lazaro could have a new one delivered in less than a month. For him, though, this was a personal affront and, to make matters worse, as he would later learn, the thieves had also taken his lucky fishing hat and prescription fishing sunglasses.

“They took my hat!” Lazaro later told a group of insurance executives at a South Florida Marine conference, “That put me over the edge.” During the next night the irate Cuban continued to watch as the blip began to move again under the cover of darkness, only this time its course was due west, from Pinar del Rio toward Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Immediately, a phone call was made to the insurance investigator who was working his case. “I’m getting on a plane in the next hour” Lazaro told him. After a brief dialog, the two agreed to meet at the first layover and fly into Mexico together.

Several hours later, in Isla Mujeres, the two watched as the 33’ powerboat idled into the harbor with at least thirty Cuban refugees on board. To make matters worse, the thief, who was piloting the boat, was wearing Lazaro’s stolen fishing hat. After a thousand dollar “incentive payment” was made to the local police officials, the boat and its crew were taken into custody. Eventually Lazaro got his boat, sunglasses and fishing hat back, but not without gaining a hefty education in the process.

According to the National Boat Owner’s Association, more vessels are stolen from South Florida then are taken from the rest of the country combined. Many of these boats are used to ferry Cuban refugees into Mexico and Florida. These practices are accentuated by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy called “Wet Foot/ Dry Foot,” a 1995 revision by the Clinton Administration to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. This policy basically says that anyone fleeing Cuba, enroot to the U. S., would be awarded expedited permanent resident status provided they have put at least one foot on American soil, thus the term “Dry-Foot.” Those captured at sea would be returned with the label “Wet -Foot.” A more recent trend has been occurring where refugees are smuggled in through Mexico, such as in Lazaro's case, and then into Texas. The classification for these is, ironically, “Dusty-Foot.” In addition to their new immigration status, refuges are also awarded an average of $ 10,000 per person plus an adjustment stipend.

To capitalize on this policy, specialized immigration law firms in Texas and Florida have been arranging these smuggling trips, from pick-up to drop-off, in Florida or in Mexico, and to the boarder crossing in Texas. The firms also file the appropriate paper work with U. S. Immigration, collect the money, pay the smugglers and keep a sizeable fee for themselves. Little of what’s left actually goes to the refugees for whom the payment was intended.

Today, Isla Mureres, Mexico is still a port for hundreds of abandoned powerboats, some costing over half a million dollars and all stolen from Florida. I recently interviewed a top tier member of the Coast Guard's Florida Keys Sector Command and he explained that smugglers are making more doing this that they would importing cocaine. When asked about the possible legal risks involved, he answered, "If you are bringing in (To the U. S.) Cubans, you would face a $ 5,000 fine, no jail time and we might take your boat." "Might?" I asked. "Probably not," he answered.

For Americans, Cuba is more perception than reality. Personally, I’ve always been told that the people of Cuba stayed there because they were forced to remain on the island. Much had been made of a Cuban Military pilot who defected to the United States, flying his Mig to the Naval Air Station in Key West, Florida. Many years later, in 1980 the “Freedom Flotilla” Cuban boatlift brought over a hundred thousand refugees to Florida on a fleet of private American boats. It had been proclaimed a humanitarian effort by, then President, Jimmy Carter and remains one of the biggest blunders of his administration’s first and only term. Refugees complained that their temporary tent housing and food provisions provided by the U. S. government were far worse than anything they had ever encountered in Cuba. During the escapade, it was learned that most of those who were sent over were actually prisoners, released from Cuban jails. They flooded the streets of Miami and started a crime wave that lasted most of the 1980’s. In the end, the mass exodus left a permanent stain on South Florida. Today, there are still thousands of prisoners in U. S. Federal and various state prisons who were part of the original Cuban boatlift, a scenario made larger than life by the 1983 Brian De Palma film, “Scarface” staring Al Pacino as Tony Montana, a boatlift refugee turned drug-kingpin in a post flotilla Miami.

Much has been debated about actual conditions in Cuba, especially in the wake of the award winning Michael Mann documentary, “Sicko,” a film that told an alternative side of Castros health care system; one of benevolence and public service. Having actually visited Cuba myself many times, I’ve found a stark contrast to the impression I’ve been led to believe for so long.

During the boat lift of 1980 the population of Cuba was approximately ten million. In the end, just over one hundred thousand took advantage of the boat lift and most of them were prisoners who didn’t have much of a choice. Another misconception was that boats filled with refugees were being turned back to Cuba from Key West. Of the flotilla captains, some of whom I knew personally, all told me the same thing: Toward the end, they came back empty handed because no-one else wanted to go. While the numbers vary, it’s generally estimated that, of the hundred or so thousand total, only thirty thousand were actual non-criminals. That’s thirty thousand out of ten million or .3 %. And that Mig pilot who fled to Key West. It was later learned that, while being regarded as a hero here in the U.S., this pilot was facing the Cuban equivalent of an American Court Marshall for a multitude of unrelated military offenses.

The United States expends an enormous amount of energy and money maintaining its current failed policy with Cuba. Since the fall of Batista in 1959, and subsequent seizure of power by Fidel Castro, our relationship with the Caribbean Island has gone from bad to worse. During his first year in office, Barack Obama made steps to open up more free travel to Cuba but any further evolution of this trend has stalled. What is it about Cuba that we don't want people to see? What will it take for us to accept our offshore neighbor as something more than just a landmass, ninety miles from our most southern coast.? Only time will tell, but for now, this scenario has regained it's status as a Caribbean standstill.

By T. Rafael Cimino

T. Rafael Cimino

Mid Ocean

Table 21
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Published on January 24, 2012 06:57 • 172 views • Tags: barack-obama, bill-clinton, boat, criminals, cuba, florida, illegal-aliens, jimmy-carter, latin, refugees, smuggling, south