Immigration judge grants asylum to Cuban stowaway

Man's attorney says client could face death penalty if returned to Cuba

MIAMI – An immigration judge granted a young Cuban stowaway asylum Tuesday, his attorney confirmed to Local 10 News.

Authorities said Yunier Garcia, 26, sneaked into the belly of Flight 704 from Havana to Miami on Aug. 16.

A ground crew member at Miami International Airport found Garcia while he was unloading luggage. 

"For me, it's a victory for my client and it's victory for the independent legal system where judges can make decisions regardless of what the government wants," immigration attorney Willy Allen said. 

Allen expects the U.S. government will appeal the judge's decision. They have 30 days to file that appeal. 

On Tuesday, it was uncertain where the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration, would release Garcia from the Krome Detention Center in southwest Miami-Dade. 

Allen planned on asking for Garcia's immediate release first thing Wednesday. 

On Sept. 11, Garcia attended a final immigration hearing that lasted around 3 1/2 hours.

Allen said his client testified for about 90 minutes. 

He is arguing that Garcia could face harsh repercussions if he is returned to Cuba. 

"If he were to be sent back, he would be persecuted because of the way he left Cuba," Allen said. 

Allen said attorneys representing the U.S. government are opposed to Garcia getting asylum, at one point calling him a delinquent who broke the law while pointing out that thousands of Cubans have been deported back to Cuba and have not been jailed, tortured or killed. 

That's not necessarily the case this time around, Allen points out. 

"He has a position or job of trust," Allen said. "He violated that trust. Our expert witness emphasized that for Cuba, that is considered to be treason and that he could be looking at the death penalty."

About the Author:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.