By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun
SURREY — Cuban athletes who defect while at sporting events in Canada, such as the two softball players who disappeared from a tournament in Surrey over the weekend, almost always make a fast dash for the U.S. border, experts say.
The whereabouts of the two softball players who disappeared Sunday is unknown, but “it would make sense for them to go to the U.S.,” said Peter Edelmann, a Vancouver immigration lawyer who specializes in refugee law.
This is because it is much easier for Cubans to obtain a green card in the U.S. than permanent residence in Canada.
Jaime Ruiz, a Los Angeles-based spokesman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said he could not comment on specific cases of individuals seeking admission to the U.S. due to privacy laws.
Generally speaking, if a Cuban national arrives at a U.S. port of entry and expresses fear of returning to Cuba, border patrol officers will check whether the person has a criminal or immigration history in the U.S., Ruiz said. If not, they are given a temporary residence permit that allows them to stay in the U.S. for one year. After that, they typically apply for permanent residence under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.
Contrast that with Canada, where there is no specific legislation pertaining to Cubans, and any athletes who wished to stay would likely have to make a refugee claim. This involves an individual proving to a member of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board that they have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality or membership in a political or social group. If a person fails to do this, they must leave Canada.
“In the U.S. you don’t have to go through all that,” Edelmann said, adding that the Cuban clients he has dealt with locally have typically either lost their status in the U.S. or are not eligible for it.
However, acceptance rates for refugee claims in Canada from Cuban nationals are relatively high, said Immigration and Refugee Board spokeswoman Melissa Anderson, hovering around 60 per cent in 2014 and 2015. This is down from 73 per cent a decade ago, but up from 42 per cent in 2009. Canada typically receives between 100 and 250 refugee claims from Cuban nationals each year, the IRB data shows, though Cubans who come to Canada via another country — often the U.S. — are not captured in these statistics.
Last year, at the Pan Am Games, four Cuban rowers defected and crossed the border from southern Ontario into the U.S. Two Cuban soccer players competing in Vancouver in 2012 also headed straight for the U.S. when they defected