20 Accused of Fraud in South Florida Wet Foot, Dry Foot Immigration Case

The wet foot, dry foot program was the name given to a portion of the revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 that was amended in the late 1990’s
The Act states, that any person(s) who fled Cuba and made it to “dry land” in the United States would be allowed to stay and apply for residency after remaining in the Country for over one year. They would then qualify for an expedited “legal permanent resident” status and, eventually, U.S. citizenship. At the time of its amendment, the U.S. government with Bill Clinton as President came to an agreement with the Cuban government that they would allow this scenario, but prevent Cuban refugees found at sea access to enter the country. A Cuban caught on the waters between the two countries would immediately be sent back to Cuba or to a third country.

Last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials arrested 20 people posing as Cubans who fled their country in an effort to obtain residence or citizenship using the Act to their benefit, taking advantage of the amended law.

According to federal officials who are handling the case, almost all of the detainees said that they were from Cuba with the idea of obtaining immigration papers. ICE did not stipulate what documents the detainee’s submitted to immigration authorities in their effort to obtain residence or citizenship.

In Miami federal court on Wednesday, at the detainees’ first appearance, a few of the accused revealed their actual nationalities. As it turned out, one of them said he had dual citizenship from Israel and Colombia. Another detailed that he was in possession of a Venezuelan passport. And a third stated that she had a U.S. passport as well as one originating from Cuba.

The current case includes suspects who were already living in South Florida cities comprising Miami, Miami Beach, North Miami and Doral in Dade county, and Hollywood, Davie, Sunrise and Miramar in Broward.

“These individuals came here seeking the freedom and benefits this country provides to Cuban nationals,” said Alysa Erichs, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for the greater Miami-Dade area. “The operation identified and addressed vulnerabilities in the application process… These arrests by HSI should send a clear message that we will target anyone who tries to obtain immigration benefits fraudulently.”

She went on to say that many undocumented immigrants who obtain Cuban birth certificates come from South and Central America and in this particular case most of them were from Venezuela.

All the arrests were the product of an investigation, labeled “Havana Gateway”, by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit combined with the Customs and Border Protection, Citizenship and Immigration Services as well as the United States State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.

Operation Havana Gateway, which began in August 2012, is the federally sponsored sting responsible for the current arrests. It is an ongoing effort and will continue moving forward, according to Erichs. She also mentioned that agents were expected to make further arrests.

Although a large amount of the detentions took place in Dade and Broward counties, other arrests were delivered on the West Coast specifically in Naples, and some as far north as Jacksonville where Ferdinando Enrique Bello, 52, was arrested when he was charged with filing an application for citizenship in which he deceitfully claimed that he was born in Cuba.

Miriam Licea, 57, of Miami, was charged with assisting two of the suspects provide fraudulent applications claiming Cuban citizenship. Licea’s arrest was related to an earlier case in which a defendant confessed to paying her $15,000 for a fake Cuban birth certificate.

At her bail hearing, Licea said that she didn’t want bail because her family had no money to pay for it. However the lawyer standing right next to her as she made that statement seemed to surprise her when he told her that it was her family had hired him, and they were willing to pay the $50,000 that the bond was set at.

Luis Enrique Legon Mena, 44, of Miramar, was charged with conspiring to persuade some of the suspects to stay illegally in the United States, apparently a notation to his suspected role as an expediter in providing falsified documents to immigrants without legal documentation, according to the ICE statement.


It is crucial that if a person has been charged with criminally related immigration issues to immediately contact a criminal defense lawyer like Mr. Cohen with experience in this area to properly handle the case.

According to the United States department of Justice, “accredited representatives may assist aliens in immigration proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s immigration courts and Board of Immigration Appeals (Board), or before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or both” Click here to read further:

The services of an attorney like Mr. Cohen experienced in criminally related immigration cases can arise for numerous reasons including fraud in the attempt to obtain citizenship, green card issues, working in the United States, visas, green cards, humanitarian issues, refugees, those seeking asylum, international adoption and a non-citizen seeking to vacate a plea to a crime, to name a few. If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges relating to immigration issues or any of the charges mentioned above, call Mr. Cohen’s office at 954-928-0059. Mr. Cohen’s experience as well as his previous work as a Federal Prosecutor can assist you by delivering the best possible outcome of the charges alleged by the prosecution.

Mr. Cohen’s practice has recently expanded and he is now a partner in the prestigious law firm of McLaughlin & Stern, LLP. Through this partnership, Mr. Cohen can now lead your defense in the New York Metropolitan area in addition to the Broward, Dade, or Palm Beach County areas as well as all other jurisdictions throughout the state of Florida
Mr. Cohen is a board certified criminal trial lawyer rated AV by Martindale Hubbel (pre-eminent) and a “Super Lawyer” recognized as being in the top 5% of his specialized field (criminal trial law) among Florida lawyers. He is considered a specialist by the Florida Bar in his field. Mr. Cohen has tried scores of cases over his 35 year career and is a member of the Florida and New York Bars. He practices in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami, among other counties. He is also admitted to practice in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh and Second Circuit.

Mr. Cohen is also listed in the 2013 edition of “Best Lawyers in America“.