OPINION

Opinion: It's The U.S., Not The Castro Regime, Splitting Cuban-American Families

A worker, right, leaves the tobacco factory as a child waits for his mother to finish at a warehouse in the western province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Pictures of Cuba's Fidel Castro and Raul Castro hang on the wall. Cigar enthusiasts from around the world come to Cuba during the annual Cigar Festival to visit tobacco farms and factories and savor new cigar brands. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

A worker, right, leaves the tobacco factory as a child waits for his mother to finish at a warehouse in the western province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Pictures of Cuba's Fidel Castro and Raul Castro hang on the wall. Cigar enthusiasts from around the world come to Cuba during the annual Cigar Festival to visit tobacco farms and factories and savor new cigar brands. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Imagine you live an hour from your elderly mother, whom you adore. You’d love to go see her, but it’s not safe for you to visit. The people who run her neighborhood are a bunch of thugs who tormented and imprisoned you when you were a teenager because you stood up to their tyranny. That’s why you moved to this new neighborhood 13 years ago, with your mother’s tearful blessing.

How can a baseball team owner in Miami arrange for his star player’s Cuban grandma to come here, yet my hard-working, decent American husband cannot arrange the same for his own mother?

- Pamela Suarez

When you left, you and your mom knew that if you were going to see each other again, she’d have to come to you. You didn’t think that would be a problem. Your new neighborhood was created to be a place where freedom, human rights and family values are respected. You ask the people in charge of your neighborhood if your mom can come over. It’s only for a brief visit, you say. You explain that your mom has a daughter and grandson living with her; she would never leave them permanently. She only wants to come see you for what may be the last time, and meet your new wife and son.

You’re confident your request will be granted. Lots of other people from your mom’s neighborhood are allowed to visit. Famous artists, athletes and entertainers travel between the two neighborhoods all the time. Even the families of those who persecuted you are allowed in for “cultural exchanges” and the like. Besides, you’re a model citizen. You work hard, pay taxes, respect the law, and help out in your community. Of course your leaders will grant your mom’s application to visit! How could they not?

But shockingly, stunningly… they don’t. They say your mom can’t come to your neighborhood because she might want to stay. You think there must be a mistake, a misunderstanding. You save enough money to re-apply, and they schedule another interview for your mom. Again her application to visit you is denied. You pay the fees and re-apply a third time. Application denied.

And to make matters worse, you discover that your mother wasn’t “interviewed” at all during her last two appointments. Nobody asked her a single question. They just took your money three times, made her file three applications, made her ride a hot, crowded bus to their offices time after time, made her pose for photographs… and then coldly informed her that her application was rejected.

More than a decade has passed and your hearts have been broken repeatedly. Even though you and your mom are separated by less than 100 miles, you might as well be living in different galaxies.

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This is the story of my husband, Carlos, who is from Cuba. The U.S. granted Carlos asylum in 2001. He’s now a proud American citizen. But he and his mom, who lives in Havana, have not seen each other for 13 years because our government won’t let them. Let me say that again: It is the United States – not the Castro regime – that is standing between this American son and his mother.

Our family is being devastated by the arbitrary decisions of a handful of U.S. State Department bureaucrats in Havana. And we’re not alone. The same thing is happening to dozens of other Cuban-American families every day. When families are kept apart by governments in other countries, we call it inhumane… a violation of rights… an atrocity. But when it happens to immigrant families in America, we shrug and call it business as usual at the State Department.

Why does our government grant travel visas to Communists – and even members of the Castro family – yet routinely deny applications from the immediate families of its own citizens? How can a baseball team owner in Miami arrange for his star player’s Cuban grandma to come here, yet my hard-working, decent American husband cannot arrange the same for his own mother? Is our family somehow less deserving of a reunion than our wealthy, well-connected neighbors?

Apparently so. And that begs one final question: what kind of neighborhood is this, really?

Pamela Suarez is a freelance writer and best-selling nonfiction ghostwriter who lives in the Florida Keys. 

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