Never before in the 50 years of the Cuban Adjustment Act’s history has the United States’ migration policy toward Cuba garnered so much attention and rejection, not only in the country most directly affected, but in the international community, as well, and among nations of the region experiencing its consequences.
Promulgated during the height of the Cold War by the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, the law gives the Attorney General the authority to grant, at his or her discretion, permanent residency to any Cuban who enters U.S. territory.
This preferential treatment, that the U.S. Immigration Service offers no other nationality, seeks in fact to promote illegal immigration from Cuba, to destabilize and discredit the country, as a complement to the economic, commercial and financial blockade.
It is difficult to estimate the number of Cubans who may have died in the waters of the Florida Straits or along other routes, over the course of the last 50 years, as a result of this policy.
Added to the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1995 was the even more criminal “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which stipulates that any Cuban who reaches U.S. territory has the right to remain, while those intercepted at sea are returned to the island.
Washington’s decision to use the natural movement of people between two countries as a weapon to attack the Revolution has led to critical moments in the past, from Camarioca in 1965 and Mariel in 1980, to the “boat crisis” of 1994.
The migratory agreements currently in effect between Cuba and the United States were signed after the last two migration crises, and state that the two countries are committed to working together to ensure “legal, orderly and secure” migration.
Nonetheless, the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet foot/dry foot” policy contradict the letter and spirit of these agreements, constituting the principal stimulus to illegal emigration; trafficking in persons; the irregular entry into the U.S. of Cuban citizens through third countries; and migratory document fraud, as Cuban authorities have repeatedly pointed out.
Just as the blockade remains largely intact, U.S. migratory law and policies toward Cuba are reflective of the aggression the two countries proposed to overcome as of December 17, 2014. But two years since the historic announcements by Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama, nothing has changed.
According to experts, the “wet foot/dry foot” policy is a matter of Presidential authority and its elimination would require no cooperation from Congress. Moreover, the President can decide how the Cuban Adjustment Act is to be implemented, even though its revocation is in the hands of Congress.
A REGIONAL PROBLEM
It is increasingly clear that Washington’s selective migratory policy affects not only Cuba. The Parole Program for Medical Professionals, in effect since the past decade, encourages Cuban international collaborators to desert their missions, to the detriment of countries where they are providing vital services, while allowing the U.S. to appropriate talent and skills developed by the Revolution under the most difficult conditions.
Latin America has also begun to feel the effect directly. A growing number of Cubans use complicated land routes to reach the U.S. through South America and Mexico, taking advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act’s benefits. Along the way, they are exposed to traffickers and criminal gangs that profit from exploiting migrants, putting their lives, and even those of their children, in danger.
Foreign ministers from nine countries in the region recently sent Secretary of state John Kerry a letter asking him to encourage the White House to address the problem.
The message signed by Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru states, “Public law 89-732 from 1966, known as the Cuban Adjustment Act, and the policy commonly called “wet foot/dry foot” have become, in this context, a stimulus to disorderly, irregular, and unsafe movement of Cuban citizens who, risking their lives, travel through our countries with the purpose of reaching any point along the U.S. border.”
The Foreign Ministers stated that a review of U.S. policies would be an important first step to halt “the worsening of this complex situation and part of a definitive solution to assure ordered, regular migration in our region.”
The United States, however, turned a deaf ear once again, and spokespeople from both the White House and the State Department were emphatic in stating that no changes were being contemplated.
Despite the measures taken by nations involved, with Cuba’s collaboration, the flow of Cubans using land routes to reach the U.S. has not stopped. According to data from the U.S. Border Patrol, more than 46,000 Cubans entered the country’s territory via Mexico in the first ten months of the current year.
VERY DIFFERENT INTENTIONS
There are those advocating for an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act for purposes which are very different from those motivating Cuba, the international community, and some segments within the United States.
The same people who have for decades been the main promoters in Congress of an aggressive policy toward their country of origin, and today defend policies of the past, have begun to propose changes in the area of immigration
“In essence, our existing law treats all Cubans categorically as if they were refugees whether or not they can prove it,” Florida Republican, Marco Rubio, said on the Senate floor.
“It’s difficult to justify someone’s refugee status when, after arriving in the United States, they are traveling back to the place they are quote/unquote fleeing from, 10, 15, 20, 30 times a year,” he added.
This same idea was defended by Ileana Ros Lehtinen, who recently told the press that Cubans residing in the U.S. who want to come and go from their native country should emigrate via the normal process, and not on the basis of the Cuban Adjustment Act.
Rubio is supporting a Senate bill similar to one introduced in the House of Representatives by Carlos Curbelo, also of Cuban origin. Their objective is not to eliminate current legislation, but rather to oblige Cubans to demonstrate that they are truly being politically persecuted, to take advantage of the privileges afforded by the Cuban Adjustment Act.
In other words, Rubio and Curbelo want to strengthen the original goal of the law, and promote claims by potential emigrants against the Cuban state, to obtain asylum. A position which is moreover directed toward coercing émigrés to denounce their country if they hope to maintain contact with their family and friends on the island.
THE CUBAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY
Cuban immigration to the U.S. is not a recent phenomenon. In the 19th century there was already a Cuban presence in cities like New York, Tampa, and Key West. The community there has played an important role in the country’s history beginning with its support to independence struggles.
The triumph of the Revolution marked a new, confrontational stage in this relationship. But there is a world of difference between the first waves of emigrants of the bourgeoisie and those close to the Batista dictatorship, and those currently choosing to emigrate.
As experts agree, current Cuban emigration is motivated by the same reasons it is across the region, fundamentally the result of marked economic inequality between the North and the South.
In the case of the Cuban community in the United States, demographic and political changes have become increasingly evident over the last decade, and especially since the announcements of December 17, 2014.
Studies and surveys indicate majority support in the Cuban-American community for the normalization of relations between the two countries and an end to the blockade, for the first time in history.
An unprecedented result from Florida International University’s most recent survey showed that 74.4% of Cuban-Americans living in Miami-Dade County held the opinion that the blockade has not worked “at all” or “not very well,” while 53.3% supported its elimination.
It is the youngest, and those most recently arrived, raised in their majority during the hard times of the Special Period, who are most convinced that the blockade is a failure, and support better relations between the two countries.
For example, 93% of those who arrived in the United States after 1995, and 87% of youth between 18 and 39 years of age favor the elimination of all restrictions on travel to their native country.
Since 2013, Cuba has made significant changes in its migratory policies to reduce the documentation required for trips, and promote orderly, secure travel.
On the contrary, the United States continues with laws and policies rooted in the Cold War.