MIAMI – A Cuban woman who stowed away inside a wooden crate flown by a cargo plane from the Bahamas to Miami will be allowed to stay permanently in the United States.
Sandra De los Santos received political asylum Monday, nearly 15 months after a crew unloading the filing-cabinet-sized DHL crate discovered her at Miami International Airport.
"Now I really feel that I am firmly here, without fear," De los Santos, 25, said after her hearing in Miami immigration court. "I am still nervous, but today I consider myself touched with happiness."
De los Santos said she was studying English and hoped to become an ultrasound technician.
In his decision, Judge Rex Ford cited the risk of persecution she would face if she were returned to Cuba. Her attorney, Willy Allen, had argued that the heavy media attention his client received due to her unusual means of travel would make her an easy target for political harassment if she were sent back.
"Her declarations appeared credible to the judge, who provided her the privilege of asylum in this country," Allen said after the hearing, adding "I emphasize this word that many immigrants sometimes forget — privilege."
De los Santos, a former law student at the University of Havana, left the island for Nassau in May, 2004. Three months later, she tucked herself into the DHL box and remained in a fetal position for six hours, at times braving freezing temperatures, until the box arrived at the airport.
Under the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are usually allowed to stay, while most picked up at sea are sent home.