Magdalena is a nurse from Cuba who had to leave after a violent attack by police for her political expressions and the cancellation of her medical license after she expressed that she did not want to go on a medical mission to Venezuela. Her journey to the border has taken over three years, and she is currently awaiting the outcome of her asylum case in the Eloy detention facility, where she has been since May.
Magdalena is a 37-year-old woman from Cuba who is currently detained in Eloy, Arizona. She is one of the people KBI visits during our bimonthly visits there, and she hoped that her story would help people understand why Cubans are leaving the country, what they encounter when they arrive to the U.S., and what the journey to the border can entail.
Magdalena is a nurse with a specialization in epidemiology, a profession she loved and hopes to practice again. For years, she was critical of Cuban politics due to what she saw as the lack of opportunity for the freedom of expression, a political system that did not represent the needs of many people, the limitation of information that can be accessed on the Internet, the monitoring of phone calls, and the imprisonment and mistreatment of political dissidents. At the last clinic where she was employed in Cuba, all nurses had to be a part of a Communist organization and regularly participate in marches and political activities. Given her opposition to the government, she declined to do so, leading to threats and abuse during staff meetings.
The situation worsened, and in early 2015, a senior officer arrived to her house and entered without a warrant. She was dragged to the police car and beat with batons; Magdalena is sure the neighbors saw, but it is not a climate in which one can speak out against abuse. From there, she was taken to a small, windowless room at the police station, where she was detained for hours and beaten by several officers. The abuse caused significant damage to her arm—later requiring surgery—and to her abdomen. As a result of the injuries to her stomach, her reproductive organs were permanently affected and she is not able to have children, something she had previously hoped for. She was released after several days, but not before the police officers told her that if she ever spoke about what happened there, she “knew what the consequences would be.” After her detention and beating, the police and political party began to increase their vigilance of her words and movement, and Magdalena believes that she was constantly watched, whether at work, home, or while visiting friends.
Magdalena remained employed as a nurse until March of 2016. At this time, she was called upon to be a part of an international medical mission to Venezuela. Given the dangers of where she was going to be placed, she expressed that she preferred not to go and instead would opt to continue working in Cuba. She was called a traitor, and was fired that same day. Additionally, her professional degree was revoked, meaning she would no longer be able to find work as a nurse in Cuba.
Having no way to support herself and believing that her life was at risk, Magdalena left Cuba. She first went to Guyana—it is one of the few places where Cubans do not need a visa—and from there traveled to Uruguay, where she lived for three years. While in Uruguay, she was able to cobble together work but had no way to fulfill her dream of returning to the medical profession. She also did not have access to any legal protections, so in April 2019 she made the decision to seek asylum in the United States, where she has family.
She began her journey by flying to Nicaragua, which had recently begun offering short-term visas to Cubans, and then traveled north through Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. The trip was difficult because she was in constant fear of deportation back to Cuba; she stayed at shelters and hotels that were frequently raided by authorities who apprehend migrants. She made it to Mexico City by early May, but while there, her phone (which contained many photos and other documents she intended to use in her asylum case), passport, money, and other belongings were stolen. Magdalena left Mexico City immediately after this event, traveling to San Luis, Sonora, in order to avoid further danger in Mexico. She crossed on May 15, and was taken to Eloy on May 23. She spent the eight days in between in Border Patrol custody, where she described sleeping on the floor, lacking access to a shower, and being interviewed by an officer who barely spoke Spanish and who could not translate the paperwork he was asking her to sign.
After one month in Eloy, she was given a credible fear interview, which she passed, and was then granted a $10,000 bond. She has a family sponsor—a cousin—in Houston, who can receive her but is not able to secure the money for the bond. Magdalena says that being in Eloy is difficult—she struggles with boredom, a lack of knowledge about what will happen to her, memories of the past, and a deep desire to speak to her family in Cuba and hug them. Additionally, she has diabetes, which she had previously been able to manage given adequate monitoring of and treatment for the condition. In Eloy, she has found it difficult to regularly monitor her blood sugar levels, eat when she needs to, and get appointments with the doctor. The medical injuries she sustained in Cuba, particularly the blows to her abdomen, also continue to cause physical pain, but that too goes untreated. Magdalena passes the time in Eloy by studying English, which she hopes will allow her the ability to once again practice nursing in the U.S. and help people who need it.