Fidel Castro may be America’s most famous illegal immigrant

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Among the least important questions raised by the current immigration debate is this: Who is America’s most famous illegal immigrant to have sneaked across the Mexican border? The answer may just be Fidel Castro.

He wasn’t an illegal immigrant for long, but according to both Castro himself and a former CIA officer who has followed Castro since the 1960s, the long-time Cuban dictator, who ceded power to his brother Raul in 2006, entered the U.S. illegally in 1956.

In his 2007 book “After Fidel: Raul Castro and the Future of the Cuban Revolution,” former CIA officer Brian Latell recounts Castro’s 1956 journey across the Rio Grande to raise money to fund his fight against the Cuban regime of Fulgencio Batista.

“Houston was new to Fidel, but in fact he had visited Texas once before,” Latell writes.

“It is the only one of his now-numerous visits to the United States — a clandestine one — that he has never publicly acknowledged. In 1956, when the brothers were in exile in Mexico, training and preparing for the insurgency they launched at the end of that year, Fidel needed to enter the United States a second time to solicit contributions. But his visa had been canceled following protests by the Batista regime.”

“In an unguarded moment during a press conference in Havana in February 1959, Fidel revealed that American officials ‘invented a series of things,’ and refused the visa,” he continued.

“Undeterred, and with characteristic audacity, Fidel trekked north to the Mexican border and swam or forded the Rio Grande. He did so alone, and probably in the dark of night. Then, after meeting a former Cuban president in a Texas border town and receiving a grant from him of $50,000 for his cause, Fidel returned covertly to Mexico the same way he had departed.”

Castro himself finally acknowledged the incident in a 2012 memoir, which detailed the 18 months he lived in Mexico before returning to Cuba to launch the guerrilla war that would propel him to power in 1959.  

“Among the other curious but little-known stories in Castro’s Mexico recollections was a trip to the US-Mexico border at McAllen, Texas, where Castro swam across the Rio Grande and snuck into the United States illegally to meet with disgraced former Cuban President Carlos Prio Socarras in a motel room,” Nick Miroff wrote in the Global Post, summarizing Castro’s memoir “Guerrillero del Tiempo.”

“The two men shared a common enemy — Batista — but Castro said he was ‘humiliated’ to ask Prio for money that he knew had been stolen from the Cuban Treasury.

“Castro held his nose and took the cash nonetheless and on Dec. 2, 1956, he left Mexico with 81 men abroad the ‘Granma.'”

Though Castro writes that he had moral qualms about taking money he knew was stolen from the Cuban people, in 2006 Forbes magazine estimated Castro’s worth at $900 million, a sum he could not have acquired on the reportedly modest presidential salary.

For his part, Castro of course denies he has any net worth at all.

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