QCOSTARICA – Cuban-born, West New York, New Jersey mayor Felix Roque, says he is helping Cuban refugees get to the United States and has so far used US$200,000 of his own money. In a press conference Tuesday, Roque said he hoping to bring awareness to the refugee crisis in Cuba.
Some details don’t add up. The NJ.com article talks about Roque administering medical treatment to Cuban migrants (calling them refugees) who were lying outside in a field next to the border, in La Cruz, after passing through Nicaragua and their passports confiscated.
The Cuban migrants in Costa Rica never passed through Nicaragua and do have a visa from Costa Rican immigration to stay in the country legally, thus must be in possession of their passports. In mid-November a number of Cuban migrants did crosse into Nicaragua, stopped by that country’s armed forces and returned to Costa Rica. The Nicaragua closing of its borders to the Cuban migrants resulted in the crisis of the Cubans becoming stranded in the country.
Of his visit to Costa Rica and not in Costa Rica in his capacity as a public official, Roque says he introduced himself “as a doctor”.
“A lot of people decide to sit back and not do anything about this. To me, this is not political, this is something I did before I even became a mayor,” he said.
While in Costa Rica Roque said he met with Foreign Minister, Manuel Gonzalez and “directed cameras at authorities, asking how the situation can be more quickly improved.” Showing a recent text conversation on his phone, Roque said that he is now friends with the mayor of La Cruz, Alonso Alan Corea.
Using his own money, Roque told the Spanish-language media outlets and NJ Advance Media, his plan is to help the Cuban migrants get to the U.S. through Mexico with an expedited US$800 travel package coordinated with a local travel agency. “They will then settle with family in N.J., Houston, Atlanta and elsewhere,” he said.
“We’re trying to facilitate an easier access to the United States. It’s going to be more cost-effective, it’s going to be more secure,” he said, and it will take “10 hours in comparison to three days.”
Already, Roque said, he has used $200,000 of his own money to help with “hotels, clothes, medications, transportation,” but “90 percent” of the people are covering the cost of their own international travel. He also set up a GoFundMe page on Jan. 6, and a website: WWW.LARUTADEROQUE.COM.
Asked how he is balancing his new work helping Cuba with his mayoral duties, Roque said “a leader knows how to delegate authority,” and that he and his commissioners are “working a tight schedule.” “To tell you the truth, I hardly sleep though,” he added.
At the press conference, Roque introduced five of the first Cuban refugees who he has helped come to the U.S. after meeting in Costa Rica. The group included a mother, daughter, cousin and two friends, and they introduced themselves as a former accountant, lawyer, a nursing student, journalist and owner of farmland. Speaking in Spanish, each recounted the terror of coming over and criticized the recent deal to warm relations with Cuba.
According to the Pew Research Center, there has been a sharp increase in immigration in the number of Cubans coming to the U.S. in the past year: 24,278 came in fiscal year 2014, and 43,159 came in fiscal year 2015. Based on the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, Cubans only need only show up at a port of entry and pass an inspection, and after a year in the country, can apply for a green card, the center notes.
An official from the Department of Homeland Security told NJ Advance Media on Wednesday that there has been no change to the policy, and it would be up to Congress to make any changes.
According to Megan Cagle, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Refugee Program of Church World Service, in 2015, a total of 29 Cuban refugees resettled in New Jersey.
Sources: Nj.com, Drroque.net, Laroutaderoque.com
Below, watch the video appeal on Roque’s GoFundMe page:
Photos from Roque’s website: WWW.LARUTADEROQUE.COM