Changes to United States immigration policy in January have left more than 500 Cubans stranded in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, while others are stuck in jail in Chiapas.
But at least two of the refugees, having nothing else to do, have gone into the restaurant business.
Former president U.S. president Barack Obama canceled the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy that had eased immigration rules for Cubans since 1995. It gave Cubans who arrived in the U.S. by land (dry foot) the opportunity to stay and apply for legal residence while those who were intercepted by U.S. authorities in the Straits of Florida (wet foot) were returned to Cuba or a third country.
Obama ended the policy on January 12, making it more difficult for Cubans to immigrate.
The move left Lourdes Lizeth de la Torre and Yoandri Iglesias Jiménez stuck in Nuevo Laredo. So while they wait in limbo, hoping President Donald Trump will announce an agreement that will enable them to reunite with family and pursue new lives in the U.S., they have started a small restaurant serving Cuban food in the historic center of the city.
They have been living in the Don Antonio Hotel for a couple of months, where they began cooking for themselves because they couldn’t get used to Mexican food — they found it too spicy.
De la Torre said the restaurant idea surfaced in discussions with the hotel owner, who had enjoyed the food they shared with him. He subsequently helped them to establish the eatery.
El Cubanito (The Little Cuban) serves typical Cuban dishes including rice and beans accompanied by fried chicken, a traditional chicken stew or steak, and plan to add other options such as lobster and suckling pig. The food is proving popular with Mexican customers although they often ask for some salsa to add to their dishes.
Both migrants see the culinary venture as temporary. “We’re just taking it one step at a time,” said Jiménez. “We have a lot of faith that the United States government will give us the chance to cross the border but in the meantime, we’ll keep cooking to earn money so that we can continue to wait.”
Things have not been going so well for Cuban refugees at the other end of the country, where there were reports this week that a group detained in Tapachula, Chiapas, has accused Mexican authorities of physical abuse.
The Cubans have filed a formal complaint alleging they were beaten by state police and federal immigration agents March 10 at the Siglo XXI migrants’ detention center after they refused to return to their cells and declared a hunger strike.
The strike was to protest their being held in custody, harassment and extortion attempts against their families.