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About the Brothers in Miami, Florida, USA and Camillus House

Some of the 12 Cuban refugees who arrived in South Florida after a trek through eight Latin American countries pose with the Hospitaller Brothers who staff Camillus House, where the refugees found shelter July 14.

They came hoping to start a new life,but ended up sleeping on the street for almost a week.

"The journey we made from Ecuador is made by thousands of Cubans, but almost all have family here. They take them into their homes and help them begin the paperwork, all those things. We are here because we have no family and so we are on the street," said Zoraida Estevez, the only woman in the group of 12 Cuban refugees who arrived in MiamiJuly 4, after 45 days of travel through South and Central America and Mexico.

The group is made up of two doctors, several professors, mathematicians and athletes who were working in various Latin American countries.

Hospitaller Brother William Osmanski, director of Direct Care Ministry at Camillus House, welcomes the new residents, 12 Cuban refugees who arrived July 4 in Miami.

Estevez left Cuba for Brazil with an employment contract for three years as a specialist in general medicine. But nine months later she deserted and went to Ecuador, where she tried to legalize her immigration status. Unable to do so in that country, she decided to trek across eight countries to reach the United States.

In Laredo, Texas, a city on the border withMexico, she was given the special status accorded to Cuban refugees: a"parole" to enter the United States.

Estevez and the other members of the group,most of whom first met each other in Texas, say they have no relatives or friends here to help them, so they went directly to the South Florida office of the U.S. bishops? Migration and Refugee Services, located in Doral.

The agency aids Cuban refugees and newly arrived Haitians. But the 12 could not receive immediate help. Instead, they were given an appointment within one or two months. So they camped out in front of the MRS offices, demanding immediate assistance.

Hospitaller Brother Raphael Mieszala, vice president in charge of Mission Integrity at Camillus House, welcomes the 12 Cuban refugees to the facility, which was founded in1960 by the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd. The community fused this year with the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God.

We needed to give them a waiting period of 30 or 90 or 180 days until we were able to process their case and begin giving them assistance,?said William Canny, CEO of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services in Washington, D.C.

The reason: There has been an increase recently in the number of Cubans arriving in the United States. "It is not a big huge influx, just a little more than expected and therefore it is a bit of a problem taking care of them as fast as we can," Canny said.

Father Fernando Heria, pastor of St. Brendan Church in Miami, learned of the group?s plight through the media, and on behalf of Archbishop Thomas Wenski, was able to offer some assistance.For four days, he put them up in the retreat house located on the parish grounds.Catholic Charities of the Archdioceseof Miami chippedin to provide food.

"The archbishop wanted them to know that we do not have the resources to meet all their needs," Father Heria said. ?It is impossible. However, we will help them through Catholic Charities and at the pastoral level."

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado speaks at the July 14 press conference welcoming the 12 Cuban refugees to Camillus House. "We cannot allow a single Cuban refugee to sleep on the streets of our city," he said.

On July 14, the group of refugees found temporary shelter at Camillus House, a Catholic organization that provides services to the homeless. In addition to furniture, clothes and food, the refugees are receiving other services such as English classes.

"We cannot allow a single Cuban refugee to sleep on the streets of our city," said Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado during the press conference held at Camillus House to welcome the new residents.

"Camillus House is equipped to help many of the homeless who are in our community, but it has opened its doors to (the refugees), even though it lacked the space," Regalado said.

Hospitaller Brother Raphael Mieszala, vice president in charge of mission integration at Camillus House, said when he came to Miami in 1970, many of those helped at the shelter were homeless Cuban refugees.

Dr. Daniel Diaz Aguilar, one of the group of 12 Cuban refugees who trekked through eight Latin American countries to reach the United States, said he came here because "just stepping on American soil" Cubans gain a parole that gives them legal protection.

?Today we are (again) welcoming Cubans from Cuba who are seeking asylum in the United States,? he said. ?We (can) give them safety, security and provide them with food and shelter.?

 "The story repeats itself,"said Homilio Lozada, director of operations at Camillus House. "For 56 years we have helped the local community and we now see with some sadness that history repeats itself with the Cubans.  It is our responsibility to help them, give them shelter, give them what they need to help them become part of this great community. Camillus House is their first home here in Miami."

?This is a continuous  issue since the beginning of the revolution," said Father Heria. "Cubans were trying to get to the States in many ways to find freedom."

At the moment, what is causing the increase in refugees is the fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act will be modified or repealed. That fear arose after the normalization of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States in December of last year. It was formalized July 20 with the re-opening of embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C.

"Every time we talk about the normalization of relations, whenever there is a conversation about the Cuban Adjustment Act, there is a spike in the number of Cubans trying to escape the island," Regalado said. "We are not talking about tens of thousands of people leaving the island, but 10 today, 15 tomorrow, 20 the day after."

The Cuban Adjustment Act, which dates back to 1966 and the "Cold War" against communism, allows Cubans to apply for U.S residency after a year and a day in the U.S. ? something not granted to refugees or immigrants from any other country.

Many Cubans come because they know that "just stepping on American soil they gain a parole that gives them legal protection," said Daniel Diaz Aguilar, another refugee from the group of12. Diaz left Cuba for Ecuador in 2011.

Hospitaller Brother Mateo Fenza welcomes to Camillus House Amilkar Estevez, one of the 12 Cuban refugees who slept on the street for seven days because they have no family in South Florida.

The parole allows Cubans to receive benefits under the Cuban-Haitian Entrant Program (CHEP), created more than 30 years ago and administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

It is a relocation program that provides eligible refugees with housing, food, clothing and other basic needs. They get help in obtaining a work permit and finding employment or enrolling in job training programs.

The program also helps their children enroll in schools, helps them register for a Social Security card, and attend classes in English as a second language. Depending on where they resettle, it provides them with guidance about the community, public transportation, and eligibility for other programs and services such as medical examinations. The program also provides support to Cuban medical professionals.

Through cooperative agreements with the government, agencies such as the Catholic Church’s Migration and Refugee Services, and those of other denominations,  provide the aid to the new arrivals. But they have to wait their turn.

"We cannot serve them because we are not allowed to register more people than are authorized by the program," said Juan Lopez, representative of the MRS office in Doral. "We are limited to serving a number of clients based on a federal budget set for each year."

Usually, Cubans arriving as refugees have family in the United States.

"If Cubans arriving in the United State sunder the 'dry foot' policy have family and friends, even if they have to wait to be processed, waiting for one or two months may not mean much, because they have a place to stay and food to eat. But when you don’t have any help, that is something entirely different," said Father Heria.

?In fact, our biggest concern are those who come and don't have families. Those are the ones we are concerned about when we cannot give them an immediate appointment," said Canny of the MRS Office in Washington, D.C.

After the initial intake process is completed in Miami, most of the refugees are relocated to other parts of the country, where they receive follow-up help from Catholic Charities agencies in those cities.

"But (those offices) also are being affected because too many people are coming and their needs cannot be met," said Lopez.

Homilio Lozada, director of operations for Camillus House, said "history repeats itself" with the Cubans arriving homeless and penniless in South Florida. "It is our responsibility to help them, give them shelter, give them what they need tohelp them become part of this great community."

 

 

 

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