From Cienfuegos to LA: Yasiel Puig, Human Trafficking and “America’s Pastime”

Last week Tony Castro published an article titled “Yasiel Puig’s ties to the Zetas could spell disaster.” His lead focused on possible danger at Dodger Stadium in the wake of recent allegations in Los Angeles Magazine and ESPN’s The Magazine that the Cuban outfielder owes money to human traffickers probably linked to the dangerous drug cartel. The articles say little about new security measures in Chavez Ravine, as both the team and MLB are hesitant to speak about them, but what is very clear is that Puig and many other Cuban stars have been brought to the US by criminal organizations that thrive thanks to our anachronistic policies in relation to the island and our broken immigration system. They also highlight at the top level of “America’s pastime” the way in which violence and corruption permeate our daily lives with the promise of money and the “American dream.”

Yasiel Puig in 2013 (CREDIT: Ron Reiring)

Yasiel Puig in 2013 (CREDIT: Ron Reiring)

In our immigration debates the Cuban case holds a special place. With the so-called “wet foot-dry foot” policy (officially the Cuban Adjustment Act) begun in 1995, Cubans who make it to US soil are usually allowed to become permanent residents. On the surface it seems that they have an easier path once they enter the country. The recent Puig story, with its cast of murderous human traffickers, points in a different direction.

I will not get into the details of Puig’s saga that are well narrated in the two magazine stories. What did come as a surprise was the reach of the human trafficking networks that regularly bring Cubans to the US through Mexico and other countries. According to ESPN’s Scott Eden, Puig was smuggled by Tomás Valdez Valdivia:

The boss of a thriving alien-smuggling operation, Tomasito and his crew ferried defectors from the coasts of Cuba to either Isla Mujeres or Cancun, under prior arrangement with the migrants’ relatives in the United States, chiefly South Florida. Once those families had paid —for years, the going rate for a garden-variety smuggle of a regular Cuban civilian has been $10,000 a head— Tomasito’s crew would transport the migrants to the Mexico-Texas border, usually at Matamoros or Nuevo Laredo. There, the Cubans would take advantage of the 1995 revision to the Cuban Adjustment Act…

He further asserts that “Within South Florida’s tight-knit Cuban-émigré community there are probably tens of thousands of people who have been brought out of Cuba by Cancun-based lancheros.”

Puig’s case was particular. He would not bring in the standard $10,000. According to both reports, Miami-based Raúl Pacheco was supposed to pay the smugglers $250,000 in exchange for 20% of the player’s future salary. The supposed danger at Dodger Stadium seems to come from Pacheco’s failure to deliver on his part of the deal.

The story, as told by both lengthy magazine articles, would be a comedy of errors were there not real lives involved: from the beginning, when the smugglers couldn’t find Puig and his three companions on the Cuban coast, through their detention in a seedy hotel in Isla Mujeres when Pacheco couldn’t come up with the promised money, to their “rescue” by a rival gang of smugglers. This last “stealing” of the human cargo is what seems to have precipitated the current threats of violence in Dodger Stadium and the October 2012 murder in Cancún of Yandrys León, “principal helmsman of the cigarette boat that brought Puig and the others out of Cuba.”

There is much money at stake in the trafficking of Cuban players. As Jesse Katz reports in Los Angeles Magazine, “Since 2009, at least 20 defectors have signed MLB contracts, worth more than $300 million.” And there are many more people involved than the professional human traffickers. In order to command such high salaries, players must pass through a third country:

Although Mexico was not his ultimate destination, Puig could not afford to take a straight path to the United States. A foreign-born player who immigrates without a contract is treated as an amateur by MLB; he can negotiate only with the team that drafts him. By declaring himself a free agent before arriving, that player can entertain all comers; the difference is worth millions. Federal law, of course, bars Americans from paying money to Cubans—or “trading with the enemy”—so a ballplayer like Puig needs not only to defect but also to establish legal residency in a country that he does not actually intend to live in.

Eden reports that a $20,000 bribe helped Puig obtain Mexican residency within 15 days, allowing him to sign a $42 million contract with the Dodgers.

Along similar lines, scouts, agents and other MLB agents also play the game. Eden quotes Dodger superscout Mike Brito:

How he got from Cuba I don’t care. I don’t wanna find out either. I never ask any Cuban player that. And even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you. Only thing we care about is when a guy is in a territory where we can sign him. Sign players and keep my mouth shut. The less you talk, the less you get in trouble.

In making his argument for the widespread role of human smugglers from Cuba, Eden also mentions the case of “El Duque” Hernández, whose sanitized official story is presented as one of heroism and determination, but which is also tainted, according to the ESPN article, with these more nefarious connections.

The threat of a Zetas attack in Dodger Stadium sounds spectacular, haunting and a bit absurd. I personally doubt that it will materialize, but this story does raise a series of important questions linking “America’s pastime” to broader issues of corruption, inequality and migration. Yasiel Puig is not your average migrant, but his case does shed light on the dangerous forces that are unleashed by a broken migration system. We might continue hearing more about Puig because he is in the sports spotlight, yet the mainstream media tells us less about the thousands upon thousands who are brought anonymously by human traffickers across our nation’s Borderland.


luisLuis Marentes is an associate professor of Spanish at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who wants to explore ways in which to communicate and learn through the new social media. His academic work has focused on Mexican and Latin@ culture in the first half of the 20th century. As a member of a Pars-Mex New England family, Luis also has a great interest in the Middle East, and would hope to help foster an international dialogue. Follow @marentesluis.

Florida Senator Derails In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students

In a move that has shocked Florida residents, Republican state senator Joe Negron has determined that SB 1400, a bill aimed to grant the Sunshine State’s undocumented students access to in-state tuition rates, will not be placed on the agenda for Tuesday’s Appropriations Committee meeting.

Senator Negron’s decision comes after SB 1400 moved favorably out of all the committee referrals with bipartisan support, receiving the co-sponsorship of 21 Florida senators. Those 21 senators would have constituted the majority needed to pass SB 1400 on the full floor of the Florida Senate, comprised of 40 senators.

First introduced as HB 851 by Republican Rep. Jeanette Nuñez in the Florida House of Representatives, Nuñez’s bill overwhelmingly passed—the results of a bipartisan vote made possible by the support of Speaker Will Weatherford.

Intended to alleviate the burden of out-of-state tuition costs for undocumented Florida students who met various requirements, such as attending and graduating from a Florida high school, SB 1400 also contained several provisions that even captured the support of Republican Governor Rick Scott.

This latest development essentially shut down the efforts of various organizations, as well as the voices of institutions of higher education who have been supporting the bill from its inception.


In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, Negron outlined the following concerns about SB1400:

Florida law does not prohibit students who are undocumented from accessing our state colleges and universities. Once these students favorably resolve their residency status, they could become eligible for in-state tuition.

On this first point, Negron cast a wide generalization—that undocumented students are able to resolve their undocumented status. That of course is an issue stalled in the U.S. Congress, ironically by members of his own party. Without comprehensive immigration reform, undocumented students and those who have been covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) are unable to access in-state tuition funds.

In fact, this Session, the Senate heard from undocumented students who testified that their out-of-state tuition has been waived.  The bottom line is that state colleges and universities already have the flexibility to waive out-of-state tuition in their discretion.

SB1400 aimed to regulate where Florida universities and colleges had such authority. While the point has been argued several times in the past couple of months, many colleges have looked at the leadership of their elected representatives to ensure that they would not be chastised in any way, shape, or form by adopting policies such as the ones already adopted by Miami Dade College and Florida International University.

How many students will be impacted?  What is the actual cost of this proposal to the taxpayers of Florida?  If state colleges and universities can absorb the tens of millions of dollars in lost tuition, what effect will this policy have on limited financial aid funds for Florida students and parents? I believe it is imprudent to commit Florida to a new statewide education law without first ascertaining the present and future fiscal impact.

As one of the states with the highest migrant populations in the country, it is hard to estimate the fiscal impact would have on Florida. Bear in mind, however, that various reports said the population would be able to afford out-of-pocket costs of college at the in-state tuition level. So the impacts would be minimal.

SB 1400 would have not allowed for beneficiaries to take any money from the state or federal government. No Bright Future Scholarships or Pell grants would have been disbursed to SB 1400 beneficiaries. Moreover, how much has the Florida invested in undocumented students through public education? To deny us the opportunity to pay a fair rate, without state help, is losing out on an opportunity and investment already been made to those who are unable to legalize our immigration status.

As the bill faces an uncertain future, there are some who already deem it is “dead.”  However, others are turning up the heat—including Republicans Scott, Jeb Bush and Mel Martinez.

Meanwhile, Florida Senate President Don Gaetz had this to say about the efforts of his fellow senators:

I am told it is ‘good politics’ to support Sen. [Jack] Latvala’s bill, that it will help Republican candidates appeal to Hispanic voters in the 2014 and 2016 elections,” he wrote. “Perhaps. It is certainly true that the Republican Party has lost much of the Hispanic support President Bush earned in 2000 and 2004 and that Gov. Jeb Bush still has in our state and across the nation.

But Gaetz argued that SB 1400 is “not limited to Hispanics.”

It casts a blanket of approval over non-citizens who are in this country without proper legal status from anywhere in the world, including countries which are cauldrons of terrorism and anti-American violence,” he wrote. “There is no improper or careless intent behind the legislation, but this bill goes much further than merely reaching out to Hispanic voters.

Mr. Gaetz was right in determining that this is not just a “Hispanic issue,” but to go as far as to say that some of these students (myself included) come here from “caldrons of terrorism and anti-American violence” is insulting and unacceptable.


Yes, many of us who find ourselves here without a legal status came here fleeing violence in our home countries, but that does not make us criminals nor terrorists. It makes us human.

We came to this country to seek a better life, for us and our families, and despite every challenge that we have been presented (no drivers licenses, no in-state tuition, no scholarships), we are still graduating and making a difference in our communities.

I don’t know about the Florida Senate, but personally, my community and I are tired of serving as the peons of a broken system that does not recognize our efforts or good will. Whatever happens with SB 1400, we are thankful for people like Senator Latvala, whose hard work has given hope to so many students around this state. Change can occur in the Sunshine State, and even as SB 1400 is falling into the pile of failed bills, we, the people of Florida, shall not remain silent.

Senator Joe Negron may think he is doing Florida a favor, but in reality he is kidnapping a piece of legislation that a majority of his party and Florida’s elected representatives support. This is political theater at its finest, one that deals a swift blow to Floridians wishing to continue their educations and strengthening the Sunshine State.

I urge everyone to tell Negron and Gaetz to schedule SB1400 for a hearing.


Juan Escalante is an undocumented immigrant, studying for his Masters in Public Administration Candidate at Florida State University. You can follow Juan on Twitter@JuanSaaa.

We Need More Compassion to Fix Immigration Mess

I hear crying in the next room and I stop writing. It’s my nanny. I was sitting at my computer writing, which is my daily ritual. But I think that it’s more like a ritual that monks do. More like the monks in the Middle Ages, like a flogging, really. Rough leather whipped on my back: that ritual looking for a story, a reason to write. I flog myself writing in my mind. At least that’s what it feels like. I have no thoughts, so I flog myself in my mind some more. Just to know the writing is good.

Then I get a phone call and it’s for Carmen, our nanny. To be fair, she’s really more of a friend. I’m the crazy “American” that she works for. Even though I’m Mexican-American, to her I’m just an American.

“Is Carmen there?” he says in a heavy accented voice. He sounds serious.

I call Carmen and she takes the phone. She takes it as far as the cord can stretch, five feet to be exact—just for privacy. I try not to listen. Then she hears some news. I hear her say simply and tragically:

“No, no, no, mi primo no, no mi primo.” over and over again.

Then she begins to cry a soft whimper of hurt and pain that I imagine as more of a cry of loss than I can imagine. Tears flow down her cheeks. I assume someone is dead that is close to her. I look at her and ask the question that I already know the answer to.

“Is anything wrong?” I ask … I admit: stupid question.

She begins to cry trying not to. “My cousin and whole family have been arrested. The immigration came this morning; I don’t mean to bother you.”

I assure her that it’s ok. But I know it’s not.

She tells me they have been in this country 28 years, paid taxes bought a home and they were all just out the night before celebrating Father’s Day. Only their daughter was not arrested. She was in Europe working for an American corporation, Disney, no less. She had just got her papers. And she was in Europe with Disney. The company that proclaimed it’s a small world after all, a world of laughter a world of joy. The irony hits me square in the face.


They are now gone and she does not know where they are. They were arrested like a family of criminals in front of all their neighbors. They were arrested like a Mob family. But they are just a simple Peruvian family that slipped through the cracks. A family that paid taxes, bought homes, helped our economy.

I’m feeling angrier and angrier and more ashamed of the country I love, the country my uncle died for and my father fought and worked in two wars for; a country where countless primos have fought. And I was ashamed this morning. I only could offer her the day off.

“Go home, do you need anything?”

And she just said, “No, I should work. It will take my mind of this.”

So she’ll work like all the immigrants that come to this country to do, and we all will keep our minds off this tragedy.

And still there will be no immigration reform.

There still will be a Congress paralyzed and a President that is now being called the “Deporter-in-Chief” by the Latino leaders who have realized he’s only going to give them “compassionate deportation,” which to some might be as callous as an international phone card to check on your remaining family back in the United States. Or the realization that our political leaders are fighting, but not for the immigrants and most of all not fighting for compassion.


We will need real heroes to fix this mess, and when I say real heroes, I mean people who are not perfect but flawed in spite of their imperfection who still do heroic things like work with the other side to find a solution. They work to find a real solution for our broken system with no powerful lobby or voice or political party, the immigrants. People that need a sorely forgotten emotion called compassion.

We need Congress to act for the people in this nation that they represent even the future American citizens that they will represent. Because this country of ours has done something better than any other nation on this earth: the ability to make more Americans. The ability to recognize others in this world with the same dream.

We need Congress to act. And I will write today because that’s my work. I will work today like the millions of immigrants here do everyday and think somehow this will all go away.

And I drink my coffee that Carmen bring to me and think, “Yes, it’s a small world after all.”


k3l4obvqilty428a2y57Rick Najera is an award-winning writer-performer-director-producer and author with credits in film, television, theatre and Broadway. His latest book, Almost White:  Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood, has recently been nominated as an “Inspirational Non-Fiction Book” by the International Latino Book Awards. You can follow Rick on Twitter @ricknajera.

White House Formally Answers The Deport Bieber Petition… And It’s Lame

Talk about one really lame response. Today the White House officially answered a viral We The People petition to deport Canada’s Justin Bieber. We won’t share the whole response (you can read it here), but we will share this:


The We the People terms of participation state that, “to avoid the appearance of improper influence, the White House may decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government in its response to a petition.”

So we’ll leave it to others to comment on Mr. Bieber’s case, but we’re glad you care about immigration issues. Because our current system is broken. Too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers, and 11 million people are living in the shadows.

That status quo isn’t good for our economy or our country. We need common-sense immigration reform to make sure everyone plays by the same set of rules.

Not only is it the right thing to do morally, it’s the right thing for our country: Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next 20 years. For those of you counting at home, that’s 12.5 billion concert tickets — or 100 billion copies of Mr. Bieber’s debut album.

You better believe it.

Meanwhile, the White House has no problem addressing Mr. Bieber’s case, but doesn’t want to address very specific questions about hunger strikers right in front of the White House protesting an end to the separation of families.

So in summary:

A Canadian pop star at least gets a response, albeit a lame one, while real people facing immigration realities every day get nothing.

Got it.

President Obama Addresses Immigration Reform Debate (VIDEO)

Today in a press conference, President Obama took two questions from Maria Peña of La Opinión about the immigration reform debate:

Did Peña’s second question even get answered?

White House Avoids Record Deportation Issue and Just Blames Congress

If anyone can figure out the spin that White House’s Cecilia Muñoz is trying to weave in her interview with Fusion’s Leon Krauze, please let us know. Here is the full video of what Muñoz had to say about the latest in the whole immigration debate:

Read more here at Fusion.

Our take, the White House doesn’t get it: Don’t lead. Just blame others. As for Muñoz’s comments? They lack compassion or humanity. Just be political and spin a tale that makes no sense in the Latino court of public opinion. Meanwhile, a hunger strike by immigration activists continues right outside the area where Krauze interviewed Muñoz:


And, as suspected, most of our community understands that the White House is just playing y’all right now:


“Total cop out. If states like AZ can do whatever they want with undocumented immigrants, then the President surely can. Ask George W. Bush for some advice Obama.”

Then there is this:

We know that the GOP is to blame, but Muñoz’s spin comments are out of touch as well. The White House is making a huge miscalculation if it thinks Latino voters will come out during the midterm elections just because the Obama Administration is blaming the GOP. Muñoz’s comments were purely political in nature. It’s time for a little bit more humanity. A promise was made. Act on it, Mr. President.

The Only Video You Need to See About Current White House Hunger Strike

Just watch.

For more, go to, Puente Arizona or follow #Not1More on Twitter.

The Drug War = Mass Deportation: 250,000 Deported for Drug Offenses in Last 6 Years

The drug war has increasingly become a war against migrant communities. It fuels racial profiling, border militarization, violence against immigrants, intrusive government surveillance and, especially, widespread detentions and deportations. 

Media and politicians have tried to convince us that everyone who gets deported is a violent criminal, a terrorist or a drug kingpin. But a newly released, first-of-its-kind report shatters that notion, showing instead that the majority (some two-thirds) of those deported last year were guilty of minor, nonviolent offenses – including thousands deported for nothing more than possessing small quantities of drugs, typically marijuana.

The report, an analysis of federal immigration data conducted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, details how roughly 40,000 people have been deported for drug law violations every year since 2008. That means that nearly 250,000 – one-quarter of a million – people were deported for nonviolent drugoffenses in just the past six years. A nonviolent drug offense was the cause of deportation for more than one in ten (11% of) people deported in 2013 for any reason – and nearly one in five (19%) of those who were deported because of a criminal conviction.


Much as the drug war drives mass incarceration, it also appears to be a major driver of mass deportation. Indeed, the report reveals that simple marijuana possession was the fourth most common cause of deportation for any crime, and the most common cause of deportation for crimes involving drugs. On average, more than 6,600 people were deported in each of the last two years just for personal marijuana possession, and overall, nearly 20,000 people were deported last year for simple possession of any drug or drug paraphernalia.

By contrast, relatively few of those deported were drug traffickers, let alone violent ones.  “Convictions for drugtrafficking accounted for only one percent of deportees recorded as convicted of a crime,” the report’s authors note, “while marijuana possession was more than three times that level.”

What becomes of the people who are deported? The sad, simple truth is that they will first likely be disappeared within the (increasingly for-profit) U.S. prison and detention system; then sent back to their countries of origin, where they may no longer have any ties to family or community, may lack basic survival needs like food, housing and health services and may face serious threats to their security. Those who are removed from the country are usually barred from reentry, often for life – no matter if they have family members who are U.S. citizens or decades-long ties to their communities of residence here in the states.

The result, then, is thousands of families broken and communities torn apart every single year.

Because of these grave consequences, advocates for drug policy reform and defenders of migrants’ rights have begun to team up to demand humane reforms to both drug and immigration policies. Central to our demands is that no one be arrested, incarcerated or deported for merely using or possessing drugs – which necessarily entails two major drug law reforms: (1) legalize and regulate marijuana, and (2) stop arresting and criminalizing people for using or possessing everything else.

These commonsense reforms are hardly controversial: recent polls indicate that substantial majorities nationwide seem to favor both proposals. Yet, though modest, they would have a huge impact: sparing tens of thousands of people from deportation every year, while saving tens of thousands more from the anguish of an arrest, conviction, jail or prison sentence, and criminal record; and saving millions of dollars in currently wasted criminal justice resources.

Such steps are critical for dismantling the war on drugs and ending the war on immigrants – a fight that is, in many ways, one and the same.


Daniel Robelo is research coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.orgThis piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog./em>

Latino Rebels Radio Launches with #AJAMBorderland and #Not1More

Tonight, Latino Rebels Radio launched. Every Sunday night. Live at 10pmET. Click here. We just WENT FOR IT. The convo was real and live. The tech things will work themselves out in future shows.

The show focused on the premiere of Al Jazeera America’s “Borderland.” We even got a surprise call from Kishana Holland @treschicstyle, one of the cast members of the series. Kishana added her thoughts about the show and how real it was.

We also talked with NDLON’s Tania Unzueta about the #Not1More campaign.

NDLON Publishes Blue Ribbon Immigration Recommendations for President

What follows is an executive summary published today by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) containing the findings of a Blue Ribbon Commission that NDLON helped to form. As it states on its site, “former and currently undocumented immigrant leaders formed a Blue Ribbon Commission to perform an independent review and present its recommendations to the President, helping fill the noticeable lack of representation from those seeking legal status and citizenship in recently-convened White House meetings. They request a meeting with the President to discuss their findings and hear directly from those who are impacted by potential upcoming policy changes.”

This is the executive summary:

#Not1More Blue Ribbon Commission Summary

The full report will be shared later today. You can access it here.

Here are the commissions’s members: