MIAMI – Yunier Garcia was working as a baggage handler at José Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba, when he decided to risk his life in an attempt to make it to the United States. But instead of freedom, he found a cell at the Krome Detention Center.
Garcia, 26, quietly hid with the luggage that was placed in the belly of a Swift Air charter flight on Friday. After about 40 minutes, he made it to the Miami International Airport on Friday, but not without detection.
"I can't really say what Yunier was thinking," said Lorena Duarte, his immigration attorney, adding that "As he worked there, he saw possibilities or opportunities he could take advantage of."
It could take time for Garcia to find out if he will have access to the land of opportunity. Cubans are having to stay in private prisons indefinetly, as they wait for asylum hearings.
Duarte said Garcia has a pending asylum claim he must prove he has a credible fear of going back to the island. Duarte said he does. His bold move exposed flaws in Cuba's airport security, and she said that could turn him into a prime target of government persecution.
During a recent meeting with immigration officials, Duarte said, Garcia "was able to give a good narrative of his experience in Cuba and his fears of returning." Garcia left behind a girlfriend and a child in Cuba, Duarte said.
Cuban migrants asylum claims have increased since President Barack Obama put an end to the "wet foot, dry foot" policy in 2017. For decades, the policy provided residency status. President Donald Trump isn't making it any easier for immigrants without a visa.
Cuban migrants are still at an advantage. Unlike migrants from other countries, a 1966 federal law still makes them eligible for residency one year after immigration authorities release them.