After Raul refused to join the Cuban military and to take up arms against civilians, police hauled him away from the soccer field and took him to jail, where they threatened him and brutally attacked him. At just 19, he felt he had no choice but to leave behind the oppressive dictatorship of his home country. He came to the U.S. hopeful that he would be treated more fairly.
In Cuba, Raul played soccer in a competitive youth league. His teammates were impressed with his finesse for the sport. Raul was talented, with a bright future as an athlete, and he aspired to teach soccer in the U.S. after earning a certificate to teach physical education back home.
But he hasn’t had that chance, and doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to realize his dream.
In August 2018, after presenting himself to immigration officials in McAllen, Texas, Raul was immediately transported to Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center.
Days slowly blur together at the immigrant prison, as Raul and his fellow detainees cling to the “invisible” hope that one day, they’ll be released. The shower and drinking water are brown, Raul said. When his kidneys began hurting, he was left without medical attention for several days. His once cheerful spirit has now plummeted into a state of depression.
“I cry all day, every day,” he said. “I’m a depressed prisoner. No one understands me, except the other Cubans.”
On Nov. 30, 2018, Raul was denied his request for asylum. The swift pace of immigration court proceedings didn’t allow him enough time to gather his documents, nor was he able to secure representation. During the hearing, the judge declared that “Cuba has changed, and nothing bad awaited him.”
Raul said the judge knew nothing of the country’s strict dictatorship, and he felt defeated after the decision. He also said it hurt to watch the judge actively dismiss the details of his case.
“We talk, and they don’t listen,” he said. “They look around the court, talking to other people, drinking coffee. They don’t look at us. They don’t understand what’s happening in Cuba. They’re racists who are against us.”
Raul has also been quarantined in the facility due to an “outbreak” of mumps and the chicken pox. This has greatly affected his access to lawyers, who are denied entry into Pine Prairie when the men are confined to their dorm.
But the saddest part about Raul’s detention is that he’s separated from his family, although he had no choice but to flee.
“They’re worried I’m still detained,” he said. “They want to help, but they can’t.”
Raul is now appealing his case. He simply cannot return to Cuba, he said. He prays for the chance to live a life free of fear, and the opportunity to achieve his goal of teaching soccer and being reunited with his family in the U.S.
“I want to do everything, but I don’t know if that day will come.”