On March 4, Cuban journalist Yariel Valdés González (29) was released after spending almost 12 months in different detention centers of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
On Feb. 28, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissed the appeal filed by ICE in September 2019 after an immigration judge granted Valdés asylum, according to the Washington Blade. Due to that appeal, the journalist continued to be detained despite receiving asylum.
Valdés entered the United States on March 27, 2019, through the port of entry of Calexico West, in the Imperial Valley of California, and the border with Mexicali, Mexico. Upon entering U.S. territory, he requested asylum and was then transferred to the Tallahatchee County Correctional facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi, according to the Washington Blade. He was then transferred to the ICE detention center of Bossier Parish, in Plain Dealing, Louisiana.
At the time of his release, he was in another center in Louisiana, the River Correctional Center, in New Orleans, where he was transferred on Jan. 7, Valdés told the Knight Center.
According to Diario de Cuba, Valdés left the island in 2018 due to threats and pressure from authorities for practicing as an independent journalist.
After being released from the River Correctional Center, an ICE detention center in Louisiana, Valdés traveled to Miami accompanied by his friend and Washington Blade international news editor, Michael K. Lavers, where he managed to reunite with his aunt and uncle and family that waited for him in the city.
Regarding his stay at the ICE detention centers where he was in custody for almost a year, Valdés said that it was a very complicated situation in which he witnessed episodes of racism and xenophobia.
“The situation in these places is complicated, not to tell you horrible, but you have to draw strength from where there isn’t any, sometimes, to overcome all those things and to think above all about the most important things, in your life, in your future, rather than what could happen to me if I return to Cuba. I tried to hold on to that, to this goal, to this dream, because if I return to Cuba it will be the end, it will be horrible, much worse than it was before when I was there. Fortunately, we had a happy ending.”
Michael Lavers of the Washington Blade told the Knight Center that “as Valdés’ editor, his case is very important because, as you know, there is a lot of persecution in Cuba, there is no free press, and his main objective was to live in peace, to live in freedom , and finally he can try it in the United States. (…) I am well, very happy that my brother is here, and that he can begin his life in freedom with all the love and support of the entire Cuban community here in Miami.”
Regarding his plans in freedom, Valdés said that he would love to go back to doing journalism, “especially here, in this country, where there is freedom of expression, where there is freedom of the press, something I really do not know yet and I hope to know soon. My plans are those, I hope they can happen.”
Valdés said he will keep in touch with the Washington Blade, a media outlet that has offered him unconditional help throughout this process and with whom he has collaborated as a journalist on several occasions. He will also seek to contact Cuban media in Miami.
The journalist fears for his colleagues in Cuba, who are exposed to a totalitarian regime that does not tolerate dissenting voices. And he stressed, “My biggest fear is with them, who face thousands of things every day: house arrests, completely illegal arrests of hours, days, [time in] prison, violence, torture and thousands of strategies that the Cuban regime invents every day to try to drown out those voices that are trying to be raised in Cuba.”
"We will continue the fight for myself and for all the colleagues who are in Cuba, because at this time the situation there is very difficult for journalists in Cuba, and it is getting worse every day,” Valdés said.