Reactions to Castro's Death and How His Oppression of LGBTQ Individuals Affected US Immigration Law

Written by Alexander J. Segal on

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The Death of Castro: Reactions and Thoughts

On November 25, 2016, the longtime dictator of Cuba, Fidel Castro, passed away at the age of 90. In a statement on the death of Castro, President Barack Obama stated:

History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him [link].

I cannot disagree with President Obama's assertion that Castro will be judged by history. By definition, history is a record of past times. However, unlike our President, who seemed oddly disinclined to take a position on Fidel Castro, I believe that we can render a summary judgment of his legacy. In an interview with the Miami Herald years ago, Fidel Castro's daughter, Alina Castro, disagreed with the assertion that her father was a dictator. “Strictly speaking, Fidel is a tyrant,” she said.1 I cannot disagree with the distinction made by Castro's daughter, nor can I disagree with the well-worded statement on the matter issued by President-Elect Donald J. Trump:

Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro's legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty, and the denial of fundamental human rights [link].

Every word of the President-Elect's statement is correct. Castro was a depraved tyrant who deprived the people of Cuba of their liberty for over half a century, destroyed the Cuban economy with his ruinous communist policies, and supported terrorist organizations abroad. In his later years, he was but a calcified relic of the communist leaders of the twentieth century who were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people, and of the deprivation of liberty of hundreds of millions more.

Yet, despite Castro's record of categorical failure and cruelty, he has a peculiar number of admirers in the West who will never have to find out what it is like living under a communist tyrant. Take for example the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who seldom finds a kind word for the only free and democratic nation in the Middle East, Israel:

He was a strong voice for social justice in global discussions at the UN General Assembly and international and regional forums.2

For reasons that I will explain, Fidel Castro is in absolutely no way a “strong voice for social justice,” lest the term “social justice” has been perverted such that it is coextensive with brutal oppression and discrimination on the basis of characteristics that were not favored by Comrade Fidel. But before I address those issues, I would be loath to proceed without noting the utterly disgraceful and nauseating statement delivered on the passing of Castro by the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau:

It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba's longest serving president. Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro, made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation. While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro's supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante” [link].

I would like to note how many people who think it is incomprehensible that many of us could have considered President-Elect Trump preferable to Hillary Clinton [see blog] also cheered when Justin Trudeau — who is quite clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed — supplanted the brilliant and principled Stephen Harper as Prime Minister of Canada. Harper stood unapologetically with free countries and free peoples. Trudeau, like his father, appears to stand unapologetically with communist tyrants.

I would like to kindly inform the Prime Minister in the North that not all of Comrade Fidel's detractors recognize “his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people.” If he deceased Castro loved the Cuban people, he had an odd way of using his brutal security forces to show it. Instead I stand with the people whose families suffered under the Castro regime, such as Senator Marco Rubio who called Trudeau's statement “shameful & embarrassing,” and Senator Ted Cruz who asked “[w]hy do young socialists idolize totalitarian tyrants?”3 It is not as if all or even most liberals fetishize Castro, for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi — whom I seldom agree with on much of anything — said of Castro, “[a]fter decades under Fidel's doctrine of oppression and antagonism, there is hope that a new path for Cuba is opening” [link].

Castro's Treatment of LGBTQ Individuals and Its Effect on Immigration Law

I would like to address the absurd assertions about Castro made by Ban Ki-moon, Trudeau, and others of their ilk with a couple of interesting stories regarding Cuba and immigration law.

Because of the oppression in Cuba and its proximity to the United States, our country has long granted special privileges and considerations to Cubans who manage to escape from Castro's island prison. We discuss many of these on site in our article on special Cuban adjustment provisions [see article]. Two of my preferred Presidential candidates, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are the children of those who escaped Castro's Cuba. We saw in Little Havana in Miami that the reaction of many Cubans in the United States was quite the opposite of the “deep sorrow” felt by the Prime Minister of Canada.

However, one thing that is often lost with Castro is that his oppression was not only generalized, but also additionally targeted at specific disfavored classes of people. One of the most targeted groups under the Castro regime has been the LGBTQ community. It has always seemed odd to me that many liberals who take such pride in their stances in favor of LGBTQ expansive rights — stances that I tend to share and have fought for as an immigration attorney — defend a virulent abuser of LGBTQ people while insisting that every Republican who disagrees with them on marriage — note I am in favor of gay marriage — is an existential threat to the community. Justin Trudeau, who presents himself as being a staunch ally of LGBTQ people, would do well to immerse himself in the history of Castro's repression.

In 1990, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) issued a landmark decision in the Matter of Toboso-Alfonso, 20 I&N Dec. 819 (BIA 1990) [PDF version]. The decision was not initially for precedent, but was for good reason designated as a precedent decision by Attorney General Janet Reno in 1994. We discuss the case in the broader context of the history of the treatment of LGBTQ issues in the immigration laws on site [see article].

The case concerned a gay man from Cuba who sought asylum and withholding of removal in the United States because he feared persecution on account of being a homosexual. The Board noted the following facts from his testimony:

  • There was a municipal office within the Cuban Government that registered and maintained files on all homosexuals.
  • This office was opened in 1967, and every 2 or 3 months for 13 years he received a notice to appear at a hearing at the office.
  • The notice for the hearing was on a sheet of paper that had his name, the fact that he was a homosexual, and the date he had to appear for a hearing.
  • Each hearing involved a physical examination followed by questions about his sex life and sexual partners.
  • He stated that the examination was “primarily a health examination,” but that he was nevertheless detained on several occasions for 3-4 days without being charged.
  • Merely being a homosexual was a criminal offense in Cuba.
  • The government's actions against him were because he was a homosexual, not even because he had engaged in homosexual conduct.
  • He was sent to a forced labor camp for 60 days on one occasion for missing work because he was a homosexual.
  • He left for the United States because he faced imprisonment for being a homosexual if he remained.

Before the Board, the government argued that the applicant was ineligible for withholding of removal because homosexuals were not a “particular social group.” Specifically, the government argued that “deviant social behavior” could not be the basis for finding a particular social group as contemplated by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). However, the Board noted that the applicant was not persecuted for conduct, but rather for merely being a homosexual. Additionally, the Board concurred with the Immigration Judge who had granted the applicant withholding of removal that homosexuals could constitute a particular social group provided that the evidence shows that members of the group are persecuted, have a well-founded fear of persecution, or that their life or freedom would be threatened on account of that status. The decision in the Matter of Toboso-Alonso opened the door for many individuals from countries all around the world to seek asylum and withholding of removal/deportation relief on account of being persecution for sexual orientation.

The applicant in the Matter of Toboso-Alfonso fled Cuba on the Mariel boatlift in 1980, and an interesting article at wlrn.org from January 2016 highlights a transgender individual who also fled Cuba on the Mariel boatlift [link].4 The article profiles Ana Marrero, who was born male but identified as a female while a young person in Cuba. She states that she was “usually in prison” in Cuba from the ages of 10 to 18 on account of her gender identity. She states that while she was in prison, she met a gay man who had naturally large breasts, and the prison guards were so bothered “that they operated on him to get rid of those breasts.” While in prison for nothing more than her gender identity, she tried to commit suicide several times, and lives with the marks on her arm from those attempts to this day. It is important to note again, as well, that her imprisonment occurred when she was a child.

Fortunately, the article notes that the situation for LGBTQ individuals is improving in Cuba of late. However, their freedom and the freedom of the Cuban people will not be secured until all the remnants of Cuba's communist regime are replaced by a free government that protects the liberty of the Cuban people.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

This brutal repression of LGBTQ individuals was done at the behest of Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba with an iron fist for decades. Castro was no chic revolutionary, but a cruel and brutal tyrant who not only violenty discriminated against anti-communists and Christians, but also against people whom he deemed to be sexually deviant. Furthermore, unlike many other tyrants who have served as inconvenient allies in the realm of international affairs to the United States and other free countries (not that such forgives their misdeeds at home), Catsro consistently stood with evil tyrants and Islamist terrorists in North Africa and the Middle East. It was Castro, afterall, who encouraged Khrushchev to use nuclear weapons against the United States. There is literally not a single redeeming feature or good thing to say about Castro's wretched reign.

People such as Prime Minister Trudeau, who insist on defending Castro, or such as President Obama, who insist on issuing weak statements dripping with postmodern relativism, ought to consider whether their professed values of social tolerance and diversity should lead them to change course. Those who condemn people such as Senators Cruz or Rubio or Vice President-Elect Pence, ought to at least be able to muster stark condemnation for a man who literally robbed thousands of LGBTQ individuals of their freedom to a greater extent than he robbed the Cuban people of their freedom for over half a century. We can hope that while Castro sycophants grandstand as social justice warriors at home, the incoming Trump Administration will work to help the Cuban people rid themselves finally of the yoke of tyranny.

Suffice it to say, Castro will not be missed by most of us, notwithstanding the ill-informed conjecture of Prime Minister Trudeau.

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  1. Editorial, “The Fidel Castro Myth Debunked: The Death Of a Tyrant, Not A Hero,” investors.com, (Nov. 26, 2016)
  2. “As Cuba mourns passing of former President Fidel Castro, Ban offers condolences, UN support,” un.org, (Nov. 26, 2016)
  3. Enloe, Chris, “Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz slam Canadian PM Justin Trudeau for praising Fidel Castro,” theblaze.com, (Nov. 27, 2016)
  4. Green, Nadege, “Once A Prisoner In Cuba, A Transgender Cuban Vows To Never Return,” wlrn.org, (Jan. 4, 2016)