MIAMI – Fourteen Cubans sent back to their homeland by the Coast Guard after their boat landed at an abandoned U.S. bridge in the Florida Keys can return to the United States — provided, of course, Fidel Castro lets them go.
The U.S. government will issue visas to the Cubans under an agreement approved last week by a federal judge.
"This will give them visas within 10 days. The other process could take 10 months, or a year or two," said Ramon Saul Sanchez, head of a Cuban-American advocacy group.
There is still no guarantee that Cuba will permit the group, which includes two children ages 2 and 13, to leave the island. A call to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, which represents Castro's government, was not immediately returned Monday.
Under the U.S. "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, most Cubans who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay, while those intercepted at sea are generally returned home.
The group of Cubans arrived at the bridge in January but were sent back because sections were missing and the span is no longer connected to U.S. soil.
U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno ruled Feb. 28 that the Cubans had legitimately reached American shores and should not have been sent home.
Under the agreement he approved last week, Moreno will set aside the ruling, removing it as a potential legal precedent.
There were actually 15 immigrants in the group, but one will not immediately be given a U.S. visa because of questions about his possible criminal history, Sanchez said.