Ecuador on Saturday deported 29 undocumented Cubans who asked the government to transfer them to Mexico en route to the United States, the Interior Ministry said.
The 20 men and nine women could not justify their presence in Ecuador, and were returned to Cuba on an air force plane, the ministry said.
The dozens of Cuban migrants returned home were part of a group of 99 Cubans demonstrating outside the Mexican embassy this week, seeking humanitarian visas so they can move forward in their effort to reach the United States.
After the Cubans were removed from the embassy area, they started protesting in a nearby park where they are maintaining an encampment.
Most of those who were not yet deported were still having Interior Ministry interviews, its statement added.
Foreign Minister Guillaume Long said Tuesday that the Cubans had not requested asylum in Ecuador but that they wanted to be flown to Mexico in Ecuadoran government planes, on their way to the United States.
Long said Quito “should not be taking part in illegal migration, that involves people trafficking, nor in people trafficking itself by giving people planes to use.”
Under a U.S. law dating back to the Cold War, Cubans who reach U.S. soil — whether by plane, foot or boat — are allowed to stay and to work. Those spotted and picked up at sea, in contrast, are returned to the Communist-ruled Caribbean nation.
Long says that the confusing U.S. immigration rule for Cubans is responsible for the problem. “It’s a relic of the cold war between the Soviet Union and the U.S. and needs to clarified.”
Thousands of Cubans have been fleeing to try to reach U.S. shores urgently since many are convinced the special treatment will end soon now that the United States and Cuba have buried the hatchet and restored diplomatic relations.
The protesters have angered the community of legal Cuban immigrants living in Quito, who claim they are giving Cubans a bad name as a result of their aggressiveness. “Many of us have found a good life in Ecuador and the people demanding to be sent to Mexico are taking advantage of the government, using Ecuador only as a transit place.”
It is estimated that about 7,000 Cubans live legally in Quito. Another 3,000 live in Guayaquil and about 700 live in Cuenca, according to immigration authorities.