My paternal grandmother is buried in Guanabacoa, a borough in the eastern part of Havana, Cuba, the city of my birth. The stone marking her grave bears an inscription, but some letters are missing and the stone is in disrepair. I touched and kissed the stone during my visit to it in 2015 when, as the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, I negotiated the first homeland security agreement between our two countries.
It was a period of soaring promise for the Cuban and Cuban-American people. As my visit to the graveside drew to a close, I committed to one day replacing the letters and repairing the stone out of respect for my grandmother and my family.
Today, however, the missing letters and broken stone can serve as a symbol of the suffering that President Trump has caused the Cuban people and families throughout Latin America. By deporting Cubans seeking asylum in our country and refusing to grant protected status to Venezuelans in the U.S., he inflicts harm on the very people our humanitarian laws were designed to protect. His cruelty, though, does not fill me with lasting despair. I know there is a more just future. It is the future of Joe Biden as our President.
I have confidence in the dignity and humanity with which Joe Biden will apply our laws to Cuban and Venezuelan families in need of protection because I have seen him lead this way before. Together with President Obama, he stood with the Cuban people – including Cuban families, entrepreneurs, civil society, and human rights activists – as they sought to empower the Cuban people to freely determine their own future. The power of democracy was in full force.
The successes and the promise of the future ended abruptly when President Trump assumed office.
He halted the advance of American business interests in Cuba, to our detriment and the detriment of the Cuban people in need of jobs and a functioning economy. He has deported Cubans seeking protection in the United States and disregarded claims of persecution, defying our country’s asylum laws and disrespecting the means by which so many of us were able to start our new lives here. He has harmed the Cuban private sector and denied Cuban Americans the capacity to send remittances to their families on the island.
President Trump has driven the Cubans back to an isolated suffering and further removed our country from its position of leadership in the region.
President Trump’s retreat from the power of our democracy is mirrored in his mistreatment of the Venezuelan people. There are approximately 200,000 Venezuelans in the United States who cannot safely return to their country because of the conditions there. U.S. law provides that these individuals can be granted Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which allows individuals to stay in the U.S. when conditions in their home country prevent them from returning safely due to armed conflict, disaster, or other adverse conditions.
It is a straightforward application of law designed to provide humanitarian relief for displaced individuals. With TPS, these Venezuelans could work and care for their families here and through remittances provide support for their relatives back home. The TPS program has previously been used to help Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Haitians, and Salvadorans, among others. TPS for Venezuela has bipartisan support in Congress. Yet, President Trump has shunned it, denying Venezuelans this most basic protection.
I have helped oversee our nation’s asylum system and the administration of TPS. I have negotiated security agreements with foreign countries and worked to protect the human rights of individuals suffering persecution in countries in our hemisphere and beyond. I know how our laws are meant to be applied to help those in need. Donald Trump has turned his back on it all.
Joe Biden has said that, as President, he will swiftly reverse Trump’s policies that have inflicted harm on Cubans, Venezuelans, and many others. He has said he will restore our asylum laws and grant TPS to Venezuelans in the United States. Joe Biden knows how to harness our values for the betterment of our nation and those throughout our region. His leadership will bring relief to so many who are suffering from the current inhumane immigration policies that have torn lives and families apart, and allow Cuban Americans to support their families once more. The power of democracy will return in full force.
We will have in President Biden an experienced leader who will show us all, and the world, the strength that comes with character and action defined by dignity and humanity. When that shining new day arrives, I will renew my plans to repair the stone by my Abuela’s grave.
Alejandro Mayorkas served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2016. He also previously served as Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.