The Smuggler as Savior

Juan Garcia Pino was obeying a higher law when he rescued nineteen family members fleeing Cuba. But a more mundane law ruined everything.

"Yes, my husband's been in there for two months, and it's an abuse," Maria replied, pulling the front section of the Herald off the dashboard. "He's in this article. There were some reports about him on TV. They held him on a boat for a week, with me trying to take care of a newborn baby." She shrugged. The woman peered at Maria through the open window. "Oh, you're the girl on television, with that newborn baby," she said. "I remember you."

As she reached the entrance to the detention center, Maria noticed a thin man with salt-and-pepper hair. He wore what appeared to be new jeans and a turquoise polo shirt. "Mari?" Pedro asked with great enthusiasm. He piled his suitcase into the van, talking nonstop in Spanish about how kind she and Juan were to offer him shelter, how abusive the guards have been, how impossible conditions are in Cuba. He told Maria the strange story of his own detention at Miami International Airport, just as he was about to board a plane back to Cuba. He'd only been twelve days in this country. His new wife, whom he'd married in Cuba shortly before they came to Miami, had almost immediately kicked him out of their SW Eighth Street apartment, and he couldn't think of anything else to do but to fly back to Havana, where at least he could be hungry with friends and family. But since he had no documents, he was stopped and sent to Krome, where he met Juan. Now he claimed he would be on the streets if not for his new friend's intercession.

"I have no one here," he told Maria dramatically, flinging open his bony brown arms. "Except you, Mari, and my brother Juany." Then he added, in the manner of an old family friend, "And the two ninos, of course."

About a week after Juan's hearing, which everyone involved referred to as a trial, Judge Hurewitz notified both attorneys that he had decided in favor of the INS, that Juan had in fact aided and abetted the attempt at illegal entry of his nineteen relatives. He could have taken the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals, but the INS wasn't willing to release him from Krome until every aspect of his case was finalized -- months and months in the future. The only way he could leave any time soon, the government told him, was, in essence, if he became a nonperson as far as the immigration service was concerned.

"I told Juan I didn't approve, although I understood why he did it," attorney Viota Sesin says. "He withdrew his application for asylum, he gave up any right to appeal, he took a final order of removal [deportation] from the United States. For all that, the service [gave] him relatively immediate release. It's somewhat unfortunate that this is the only ground he has to get out on so he can protect his business and his family. A criminal can beat up his wife and get out on $5000 bond. This guy, who knows how to work for his family, can't get bond or parole. There's something skewed about that."

It took only five days for the INS to process the paperwork for Juan's release, and he came home Friday, September 4. Maria's grandmother (who had also recently come to live in the house) had died eight days earlier, and Maria had been hoping Juan would be released in time for the funeral. When she finally did pick him up at Krome, they both were feeling wronged and pressured.

Even now, as some things click back into place, as Juan resumes working long hours at his shop and Maria is able to sleep a little later and stay at home more, they are unsettled, as if they still await a different ending to the ordeal. It could come. Immigration laws change, and amnesty isn't unheard of. On the other hand, Fidel Castro won't live forever, and perhaps one day all those "final" deportation orders will be executed.

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