After refusing to join the young Communists assembly, Pedro – a high school math teacher – was blacklisted from all teaching jobs and was branded as a “counterrevolutionary.”
The Cuban government forced him to sell rice and beans from a bicycle to people in the streets. To make matters worse, police repeatedly robbed him of all his merchandise. Eventually, officers detained him in a prison, where he was kept awake without food or water for 72 hours, in the company of convicted murderers.
After his release from prison, Pedro decided to escape from his home country. On May 1, 2018, he wept while saying goodbye to his newborn son. He boarded a raft that took him to Mexico, where he traveled to cross the border and entered the U.S. at the Puente Internacional de Miguel Hidalgo. He planned to seek asylum in the U.S.
“I had hope,” he said. “I thought I had a chance.”
At the border, however, Pedro was not allowed to enter through a port of entry. He was forced to sleep on a bridge for six days while waiting in line with other asylum seekers. Again, he was denied food and water. Pedro was weary, weak and terrified. He didn’t know whether he could continue, but he knew he had to, for the sake of his son.
After turning himself in to border officials, he was locked in a room with no bed for four days, then he was transported to Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center.
At the immigrant prison, Pedro has been denied phone calls with attorneys. Communication from ICE and the immigration courts has been in English – even though he only speaks Spanish – and translation services have been refused.
Like Rodriguez, Pedro waits – and prays – for his release. His life at the immigrant prison is worse than he knew was possible.
At night, he tries to sleep on the uncomfortable bunk bed, but the mattress springs painfully poke his back. His room is packed with over 70 men, and each day, droves of new detainees arrive. Each morning, the immigrant prison is brimming with men shackled at the waist and handcuffed as they are escorted into their new “home.”
Since his arrival, Pedro has applied for parole three times. But ICE has denied every request. What’s more, he was denied asylum and was ordered removed from the U.S. in September 2018. The order came after an immigration judge told him that “he didn’t have a reason to be afraid to return to Cuba,” even though he had passed his credible fear interview. The decision left Pedro nearly speechless.
“The judge is supposed to be fair,” Pedro said, his voice sad. “That has been the cruelest part of my detention – that the judge just denied me. I don’t know if I have any more hope.”
Pedro has never committed a crime, and yet, he feels dehumanized.
“The officials tell you to ‘shut up,’ ‘stay away,’ and to not talk to them, especially in Spanish,” he said. “They treat you like a piece of trash in the street, even though they know nothing about your case.”
Pedro’s odds for a fair hearing are beyond slim. When he first arrived at Pine Prairie, 24 other Cuban men entered that same day. But only 10 or 11 of those men remain – the rest have since been deported, he said.
“You have to be born here to be free,” he said.