ACLU of Massachusetts Backs Suit Challenging Bush Administration Travel Restrictions On Family Visits To Cuba

May 16, 2008 12:00 am

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Three State ACLU Affiliates, Center For Constitutional Rights Join First Challenge To Increased Restrictions On Family Visits Announced In 2004

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BOSTON, MIAMI and MONTPELIER, VT — Decrying the Bush Administration’s attack on families, American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in Massachusetts, Florida, and Vermont, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), today filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief in Vilaseca v. Paulson, a federal lawsuit in Vermont against the Treasury Department, challenging severe restrictions imposed by the U.S. government on travel to visit close family members in Cuba.

The lawsuit is the first challenge to the U.S. government’s increased restrictions on visits to family members which were announced in 2004. They are being challenged now by four individuals who have current urgent needs to visit with elderly or ill relatives. The regulations prohibit Americans from visiting close family members in Cuba more than once every three years, even in emergency humanitarian situations. Previously, Cuban-Americans could visit family every year or even more frequently in emergencies. For the first time, the regulations also prevent Americans from visiting aunts, uncles or cousins at all. Anyone who violates the rules could face fines of up to $1 million and up to ten years in jail.

“Shame on the Bush Administration,” said Sarah Wunsch, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts. “It apparently has no compassion for the need of families to gather together in times of death, illness, weddings, and births. Our government is playing politics with one of the most personal needs of human beings, to maintain their family relationships,” said Wunsch.

According to John Reinstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, “these regulations gut the previous humanitarian rules allowing for close family visits and visits to Cuba in case of family emergencies.” With major assistance from the national law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, the ACLU argues that the due process right to preserve family relationships is deeply rooted in the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Further, the brief points to international human rights law that confirms that the preservation of family relationships is “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of four individuals, Armando Vilaseca, Yurisleidis Leyva Mora, Jared Kingsbury Carter, and Maricel Lucero Keniston, all of whom reside in Vermont. The parties are asking the court to enter an injunction requiring the Government to cease enforcement of the “Family Visit Regulations” and allow Vilaseca and other Cuban-Americans to resume annual and humanitarian travel to Cuba for family reasons.

The lawyers on the brief are James L. Messenger, Malick W. Ghachem, Okey Onyejekwe, Wasif Qureshi and Arthur D’Andrea, all of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, which represented the groups pro bono, and Mitchell L. Pearl, of Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP in Burlington, Vt.; Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida Legal Director; John Reinstein and Sarah Wunsch, ACLU of Massachusetts; and Darius Charney, Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City.

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