It’s time to change Cubans’ special immigration status
As a new wave of Cuban refugees floods Florida and Central America, the
U.S. government should consider a letter by nine Latin American foreign
ministers demanding that Washington change its special status for Cuban
refugees, which they say encourages mass migration from Cuba. But Latin
American nations should do their part, too.
BY ANDRÉS OPPENHEIMER
As a new wave of Cuban migrants floods Florida and Central America, nine
Latin American nations have asked the Obama administration to end the
U.S. special immigration privileges for Cuban refugees. And while some
of these countries have dubious human rights credentials, they may be
In an Aug. 29 letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the foreign
ministers of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru expressed their “deep concern” that
the United States’ so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy is creating a
regional refugee crisis.
Ecuador — which released the letter — and Nicaragua are ruled by
repressive governments with little moral authority to lecture anybody
about political or humanitarian issues.
But the letter should draw attention because it comes at a time when
Cubans are fleeing the island in record numbers. The euphoria over the
reestablishment of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties has faded, and many Cubans
have lost faith that there will be a political opening on the island.
Others are fleeing now because they fear that the U.S. special status
for Cuban refugees will be terminated after the November elections.
At least 46,000 Cuban refugees were admitted by the United States during
the first 10 months of the 2016 fiscal year, almost twice the 24,000 who
were allowed into the country in 2014, according to the Pew Research
Center. Thousands of others have flocked to Nicaragua, Costa Rica,
Panama and other countries, hoping to make their way into U.S. territory.
Under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act and its 1995 revision — known as the
wet-foot, dry-foot policy — Cubans are granted residency and eventually
citizenship if they set foot on U.S. land. If they are caught at sea,
they can be returned to Cuba.
The special U.S. status for Cubans has been significantly abused in
recent years. Under a 1980 provision that expedites economic assistance
for Cuban refugees, large numbers of Cuban refugees return to Cuba, and
live the good life there with U.S. taxpayers’ dollars.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Human Rights Watch advocacy group’s
Americas department, told me that “Cuba is a unique case in the region,
where those who challenge the government are punished harshly. But the
United States and all democratic countries already have obligations to
offer protection and asylum to Cuban political refugees.”
He added that ending the special status for Cubans “would not amount to
a human rights setback, as long as the United States and other
democratic countries, including the nine that signed that letter, offer
refuge and protection to those who are persecuted in Cuba.”
Others, such as Marcell Felipe, head of the Inspire America Foundation,
support changing U.S. laws to end abuses by those who return to Cuba,
but without eliminating the overall special status for Cuban refugees.
“Cuba is a special case, because everyone in Cuba who does not actively
support the dictatorship is subject to repression,” Felipe says. “If
Cubans didn’t have a special U.S. immigration status, most Cubans would
not qualify for U.S. asylum.”
My opinion: It’s time to revise the U.S. government’s special status for
Cuban refugees. But it should be done as part of a new commitment by all
countries in the region to grant asylum to Cuba’s political refugees,
and to press Cuba to abide by international human rights laws.
Kerry should meet with the nine foreign ministers who signed the letter
and ask them: Are you ready to accept Cuba’s political refugees? Are you
ready to press Cuba to free its political prisoners, stop arresting
peaceful dissidents, and respect political pluralism, as is Cuba’s duty
under the Viña del Mar convention it signed in 1996?
It’s time for all sides to end Cuba policies that are relics of the Cold
War. Washington should change its much-abused laws giving special status
to all Cuban refugees, and Latin American countries should end their
shameful silence on Cuba’s repressive dictatorship, which is at the root
of Cuba’s main problems. These are new times that require new policies
by all countries.
Source: U.S. should change special immigration status for Cuban refugees
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