Bill grants 1960s Cuban rebels refugee status
Posted on Fri, Dec. 21, 2007
BY PABLO BACHELET
WASHINGTON -- Cubans who joined or supported an anti-Castro guerrilla group more than four decades ago will become eligible for U.S. refugee status thanks to provisions in a big spending bill passed by Congress.
The group known as the Alzados operated in the Escambray mountains in south-central Cuba, with some U.S. support, until Cuban security forces crushed them in a massive sweep in 1966.
But under the Patriot Act and the Real ID Act, those who join or materially support an armed revolt against a government are considered members of a terrorist organization and thus ineligible for refugee status.
The text exempting the Alzados, authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was inserted in a $555 billion spending bill passed just hours before Congress recessed for the holidays this week. The bill, which funds 11 government agencies plus the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, is awaiting President Bush's signature.
Other groups exempted include the Hmong fighters in Laos, the Vietnamese Montagnards and several Burmese groups.
''Many of these people were our allies,'' said Leahy, who chairs the appropriations panel that oversees the State Department and Foreign Operations. ``They were there for us when we needed them, and we should not turn our backs when they need the safety of our shores.''
The Escambray fighters, mostly poor peasants, battled government forces with limited, if any, support from the CIA, according to exile organizations and former fighters. The Castro government called them bandidos.
Since most of the original fighters are either dead or already in the United States, it is believed that many of those now applying for asylum are probably friends and relatives who assisted the Alzados.
In February, the Bush administration issued a ''material support exemption authority'' that made it easier for family and other individuals who provided help to the Cuban rebels to win asylum.
Since then, 218 individuals have obtained asylum, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security.
There are around 100 individuals still waiting for asylum, and CIS spokesman Christopher Bentley said his office needed time to review how the Leahy provisions could apply to these cases, if at all.
The Patriot Act defined terrorism as ''any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed'' and includes any use of explosives, firearms or other weapons intended to cause death or property damage.