NEW ORLEANS — An asylum seeker whose pending deportation sparked a traffic-stopping protest this week in New Orleans was deported to Cuba on Thursday, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service said.
Yoel Alonso Leal was returned to his homeland despite his supporters' contentions that he was too ill to travel and would likely face mistreatment in Cuba.
Immigration documents provided by his lawyer show that Leal said he was detained and assaulted by Cuban authorities in 2016 and 2018 before seeking asylum in the U.S.
They also say that Leal has a respiratory illness and that ICE did not take sufficient steps to diagnose or treat it. ICE spokesman Bryan Cox earlier this week denied that Leal was not given necessary medical treatment. He confirmed in an email that Leal was deported Thursday.
An immigration judge and an appeals board found that Leal "did not meet his burden of demonstrating that he suffered past persecution or that he has a well-founded fear of future harm," according to a copy of the appeals board finding provided by Leal's lawyer. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to intervene in an order dated Sunday.
Leal's plight sparked protests Monday and Tuesday involving dozens of people, organized by the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans, outside a building housing ICE offices near the Superdome in New Orleans. On Monday several were arrested after briefly blocking traffic during the morning rush hour.
After seeking asylum, Leal had been detained at facilities in Louisiana and, later, Alabama. In arguing for a delay in his deportation and his release from detention, his lawyer, Martin High, noted that he is a class-action plaintiff in a lawsuit against ICE over the detention of asylum seekers.
The suit by the Southern Poverty Law Center was filed in Washington and says the ICE field office in New Orleans — overseeing operations in Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee — routinely denies parole to asylum seekers without determining whether they are flight risks, in violation of Department of Homeland Security policy.