MIAMI – Ramón Saúl Sánchez was 12 years old when his family in Cuba sent him to the United States, and his dream of becoming a legal resident just got a little closer.
Sánchez, 68, said federal immigration officials had wrongly listed terrorism as one of the reasons why they wanted to deport him and cited the “flotillas” he had organized to honor Cuban victims as a disruption.
The president of Movimiento Democracia, an advocacy nonprofit organization based in Miami’s Little Havana, submitted more than 250 letters of support to an immigration judge on Thursday.
“It is the first time in 21 years,” Sánchez said about a hearing that allowed him to go before a judge in immigration court.
Sanchez was 15 when a paramilitary organization formed by Cuban exiles against Communism recruited him. He said his experience cemented his commitment to decades of non-violent resistance.
Over the years, the protester has gone on hunger strikes, has advocated for refugees, and raised awareness about human rights violations in Cuba.
“I know that I have run into problems with the law in the past because of my struggle for Cuba,” Sánchez said about his militant past.
Sánchez’s alleged past association with Alpha 66, a paramilitary group of Cuban exiles, resurfaced when he applied for permanent U.S. residency on Sept. 10, 2002.
In 1982, he was in contempt of court for refusing to testify before a New York grand jury on a case involving Omega 7, a paramilitary group of Cuban exiles founded in 1975 that the FBI blamed for bombings in the 1980s in Miami, New York, Puerto Rico, Chicago, and New Jersey.
Sánchez served four and a half years in federal prison after he was sentenced to nine. Attorney Wilfredo O. Allen, who is representing Sánchez on his immigration case, said his client is not a member of a terrorist group, and he has not been involved in terrorism, but in peaceful activism.
“Those charges, which are 50 years old in some cases, or 40 years in some cases, are the basis for the government’s efforts to place him in deportation,” Allen said before the hearing, later adding, “Sending him back to Cuba is a death sentence.”
The federal judge agreed and allowed Sánchez to continue applying for U.S. residency. It’s a process that Allen said he is committed to, as he wants to make sure Sánchez feels safe to continue his work in support of Democracy and freedom in Cuba.
“This was a big step,” Sánchez said. “I’m so grateful to the court, to the government, to this country. This is my homeland as well.”
Watch the report before the hearing