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Cuban Doctor With COVID-19 Detained by ICE in Arizona

June 16, 2020 (1 min read)

Daniel Gonzalez, Arizona Republic, June 16, 2020

"Merlys Rodriguez Hernandez, a Cuban doctor seeking asylum at the U.S. currently being detained at the Eloy Center, complained for weeks that she was terrified of being infected by the coronavirus because ICE was not doing enough to protect detainees, said Stephen Yale-Loehr.

He is co-director of the asylum appeals clinic at Cornell Law School, which is representing Rodriguez Hernandez. She has filed an appeal after being denied a request to remain in the U.S. out of fear of political persecution if forced to return to Cuba.

"I’ve had weekly calls and she’s been worried about COVID-19 coming into the facility," Yale-Loehr said.

Rodriguez Hernandez ended up getting infected with the virus and is now in isolation, Yale-Loehr said.

She has complained that besides having her temperature taken daily, ICE medical staff inside the facility are doing nothing to help her.

"She feel like she’s getting sicker every day," said Yale-Loehr, who spoke with Rodriguez Hernandez by phone Monday. "She sounded very weak she was coughing and crying."

Rodriguez Hernandez and her husband, Lazaro Almanza Paneca, also a doctor, arrived at the Nogales port of entry seeking asylum after fleeing political persecution in Cuba, according to documents provided by Yale-Loehr.

Almanza Paneca was transferred to an immigration detention center in Texas, where an immigration judge granted a form of asylum known as withholding. He was released last week, Yale-Loehr said.

The couple was barred from applying for asylum due to a rule implemented by the Trump administration in 2019 that requires asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the first country they pass through.

Rodriguez Hernandez also applied for withholding but was denied in April. She remains in ICE custody at the Eloy Detention Center while her appeal is pending, which could take months, Yale-Loehr said.

"Instead of welcoming a Cuban doctor fleeing persecution into the United States so she can help us fight COVID we detain her and now she has COVID herself," Yale-Loehr said."