*** Update to the original story: After spending over a year and a half in ICE Immigration Detention, “El Chiqui” was removed (deported) back to Cuba in January 2021.
My friend “El Chiqui”
by Bill Everett
Let me tell you about my friend “El Chiqui.” He is from Cuba. He is currently in Immigration Detention¹. I started visiting with him in November 2019. With the lockdown of detention facilities in early 2020, we started corresponding by letter. Now I don’t speak Spanish and he doesn’t speak English, so I make heavy use of Google language tools to translate my letters to Spanish and his letters to English.
He is now 21 years old and I am 77. But the age gap has not stopped us from being friends. When I started visiting him, only friends and family were allowed to visit. So, I said I was his friend, and the detention staff allowed me to visit. At the start, saying I was a friend was somewhat artificial to allow me to “get in the door.” But, since then, our contact developed into a true friendship.
He fled Cuba when he was 18. Now, you would think that Cuba is only 100 miles from Florida and it would be easy enough for him to get to the U.S. via that route. But, since the “Cuban Boat Lifts” of the 1980s, that route has been cut off. So, he had to navigate a more circuitous route. He first flew to Guyana in April 2018, crossed the border to Brazil and then he threaded his way through Bolivia to Chile. He was allowed into Chile and stayed in Santiago until January 2019. He then crossed into Peru, then Bolivia, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico before arriving at the U.S. border at the end of March 2019. He turned himself in to Customs and Border Patrol requesting asylum. He was thrown into prison (detention) where he has remained for the past year and a half. He and others cannot understand why they are treated like criminals just for asking for asylum (nor do I). He (and others) are in a prison in the middle of nowhere (Milan, NM) run by a private prison company (CoreCivic).
Well, onto other things. We have shared information about our families. I told him that my wife and I have been married for more than 50 years and that I have a son who lives in California and a daughter who lives here in New Mexico and that they are both married. Chiqui told me that he has 2 older brothers, his mother and father and a girlfriend, Wendy. He said that his nickname, Chiqui, came about because of his small stature.
In June, he said that he has a maternal grandmother and paternal grandparents. I sent him money so he could call his family in Cuba. In later letters, he said his grandfather who was 90 had a bad accident and the family should expect the worst. Finally, he was told by his family that he had passed away. Chiqui was devastated that he could not be by his side and was deeply depressed.
He told me his home was in a small municipality outside of Havana and gave me the address. On a lark, I tried to locate it on Google Maps. Unfortunately, I could not locate his home but landmarks close by with pictures. I printed some pictures and mailed them to him. One was of the Arroyo Arenas Catholic Church with a street filled with classic 1950s cars. He said that they were mostly used as taxis, called almendrones.
Chiqui told me about some very beautiful places in Cuba: the Varadero beach located in the province of Matanzas, Viñales which is located in the province of Pinar del Río, Soroa in the province of Ciego de Ávila, Guardalavaca, a beach located in the province of Holguín. All those places are beautiful tourist centers in Cuba. I found them on Google maps and sent him pictures of those places.
I tried to send clothes and shoes to another friend, Diallo, from Guinea but they did not arrive before he was deported. I asked if they could be given to Chiqui. Unfortunately, they were too small (although small in stature, he was larger than Diallo). But, he was able to have the prison staff save them for his friend Rishi from Sri Lanka. As it turns out, Rishi is also my friend and I correspond with him, but that is another story.
Chiqui says that they all live in perpetual fear of contracting COVID19. He said that our friend Rishi tested positive and was quarantined (I think in solitary confinement) for a couple of weeks. He says that it is difficult maintaining social distancing amongst themselves and prison staff. But, he says that he has faith that God is looking after them.
We talked about how the COVID19 pandemic has swept across Cuba and the U.S. and how it has affected all our lives. We also talked about the recent hurricanes that have lashed Cuba and the U.S. and the hardships that they have caused those who were in their paths.
On another subject, in September 2020, Chiqui has been in detention for a year and 6 months. ICE told him and others that they would be interviewed for potential parole because they cannot be detained indefinitely. So, even though he and others have a “final removal order” because the Immigration Judge denied their requests for asylum and their appeals were denied, ICE has not been able to obtain travel documents from Cuba for them to be deported. They all have sponsors (a condition for parole). I and others have written letters of support that they could include with their parole packages. Well, Chiqui and others were told that their parole cases were denied and that they would remain in detention for another 3 months when they would be considered for parole again. One was paroled to his parents in Florida and he joined them there.
In all his letters to me, Chiqui tells me how grateful he is for our friendship. He says that my letters to him have helped him when he is depressed and feels he cannot go on like this. We both feel that the way he is being treated is unjust. He says that he has goals that he wants to accomplish when he is free and that he will work to get his parents and girlfriend out of Cuba.
Since writing this story, Chiqui has been moved to another Immigration Detention facility. He and others who were moved had to be quarantined for 15 days.
If you would like to correspond with someone in detention, you are invited to visit https://www.abqvida.org/writing-letters.
About El Chiqui and the blog post author:
El Chiqui (Yariel Pacheco Diaz) is a native of Cuba. After spending over a year and a half in ICE Immigration Detention, he was removed (deported) back to Cuba in January 2021.
Bill Everett is a coordinator with VIDA (https://www.abqvida.org/) a local chapter of Freedom for Immigrants in Albuquerque, NM supporting visits and letter exchanges with those in ICE Immigration Detention.
¹The facility is Cibola County Correction Center located in Milan, New Mexico.