Two Cuban police officers barged into Brayan Lazaro Rodriguez Rodriguez’s home, handcuffed him, and shoved him to the floor. They beat him in the face with their batons, and broke one of his teeth. They labeled him a “criminal,” and locked him up at a nearby prison.
Rodriguez’s only “crimes” were that he had refused to vote, would not participate in Cuba’s mandatory military service, and did not join the country’s political assembly. The Cuban government labeled him “defiant.”
Three days after he was imprisoned, his mother died, and he was devastated by the loss. He was her only son, and they were very close.
Upon his release from the Cuban prison, Rodriguez, 23, fled to the U.S. He flew into Texas and presented himself at a port of entry in Laredo. He brought citations from the Cuban government, a doctor’s note describing the injuries he had suffered from his assault, and documents to support the fact that his life was in danger in Cuba.
He was locked up anyway at Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center and has been held captive there ever since.
Conditions at the immigrant prison are deplorable, Rodriguez said. The food is only suitable for rats. Mold clings to the cracks and corners of the walls, emitting a foul odor. In the mornings, when he and the other men get an hour outside to “enjoy” fresh air, they stare at the barbed wire crawling up the fences – a reminder that they are ensnared in a system that won’t set them free.
After “recess,” Rodriguez works in the kitchen, doing whatever is told of him, for $1 a day. He uses his meager earnings to call his remaining family members in Cuba.
Rodriguez is depressed, and with each day, his depression worsens. Alone and isolated, he tries to find comfort in the words of the Bible, but he is becoming increasingly desperate.
“I don’t have hope,” he said, weeping. “When I arrived, I quickly learned that we couldn’t leave. I feel trapped, scared and worried. I don’t know what to do.”
Rodriguez has had four immigration hearings; none have gone his way. During his first hearing, the court would not grant him time to secure representation for himself, nor would it allow him to collect proof of his persecution in Cuba. An immigration judge ordered his removal from the U.S. on Dec. 17, 2018, but SIFI has secured a pro bono attorney to appeal his case.
Meanwhile, he waits. He doesn’t understand why immigration judges are denying countless Cuban detainees the chance to be released. He can only speculate on why he is still detained, saying that ICE is preying on Cubans’ vulnerability.
“They know we come from a dictatorship,” he said. “They know how we are treated in Cuba, and that coming to the U.S. for asylum is our only option.”
At night, he dreams of freedom. But in the morning, he’s jolted back to reality.
Through many tears, he said what he wanted to do if he were released: “To be a good person. To work hard and prove that I am a good person.”