Cuban Migration Developments  

In recent weeks there have been significant developments regarding Cubans leaving, and returning to, the island and possible changes to U.S. laws regarding Cubans coming to the U.S.

Cuban Migrants in Central America

  1. “Test Plan” for Transit of Cuban Migrants to U.S.

As reported in prior posts, about 8,000 Cuban migrants have been stranded in Costa Rica on their journeys to the U.S., but last December Mexico and certain Central American governments agreed on a “test plan” to transport the migrants via air and bus from Costa Rica through El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico to the U.S. border.[1]

On January 12 the initial group of 180 of these migrants started this journey, and on the next morning they had arrived in Ciudad Hidalgo on the Honduras-Mexico border, where they were granted 20-day transit visas. They were then put on their own to get to the Mexico-U.S. border. The first of them reached the Mexico-U.S. border at Laredo, Texas on the evening of January 14. And on January 18 a group of 30 arrived in Florida (Tampa, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Miami).[2]

In anticipation of the arrival of many of these Cubans in the Miami, Florida area, the mayors of Miami-Dade County in Florida have asked the federal government for funds to assist in welcoming many of those Cubans who are expected to come to their county.[3]

  1. Evaluation of “Test Plan[4]
Guatemala Meeting
Guatemala Meeting

On January 20 Guatemala hosted a meeting with representatives of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Belize and members of the International Organization for Migration to review the operation of the “test plan.” During the meeting an analysis of the operation was performed and each country presented their experience in the management of migration and visa issues as well as logistics and security. They concluded that the process was successful and that the passage of the Cuban migrants was made in a legal, orderly, safe and transparent manner. They also agreed to collaborate better and improve coordination needed for future transfers and to meet again on February 15 to review further progress.

  1. Future Transit of Cuban Migrants to the U.S.

The representatives at the January 20 meeting also concluded to resume the transit of Cubans in Costa Rica on February 4 with two weekly flights (February 9, 11, 16, 18, 23 and 25) from Costa Rica to El Salvador followed by their busing to the Honduras-Mexico border and thence on their own to the Mexico-U.S. border. Priority will be given to households with pregnant women or children, with earlier dates of entry into Costa Rica, the numbers on their Costa Rica visas and the financial resources to pay for the transit. In addition, Costa Rican officials will visit Cubans remaining in shelters to renew their visas.

Each Cuban will pay $555 for the charter flight, the bus and food arranged by a travel agency. Once in Mexico, the Cubans will receive a 20-day transit visa to make it on their own to the U.S. border. U.S. and Mexican officials hope is to hatch a similar plan for the 3,000 Cubans stranded in Panama.

 Cuban Migrants By Sea

On May 2, 1995, in response to a large increase in Cubans who were attempting to make the dangerous crossing of the Caribbean Sea to get to Florida, the U.S. and Cuba entered into an agreement whereby the two countries “reaffirm their common interest in preventing unsafe departures from Cuba. Effective immediately, Cuban migrants intercepted at sea by the [U.S.] and attempting to enter the [U.S.] will be taken to Cuba.”[5]

Since then, the U.S. has done just that. Such an agreement and practice, it was believed, would discourage other Cubans from attempting such dangerous journeys. This then became known as the “wet feet” part of the U.S. disjunctive dry feet/wet feet policy. Here are the statistics on such interdictions:[6]

Fiscal Year

(Oct.1-Sept. 30)

Number of

Interdictions

1995    525
1996    411
1997    421
1998    903
1999 1,619
2000 1,000
2001    777
2002 666
2003 1,555
2004 1,225
2005 2,712
2006 2,810
2007 2,868
2008 2,216
2009    799
2010    422
2011    985
2012 1,275
2013 1,357
2014 2,111
2015 2,924

So far in Fiscal 2016 (10/01/15-01/14/16), the U.S. Coast Guard estimates that 1,942 Cubans have been interdicted at sea or have attempted to land in the U.S. or have actually landed by sea. For the first half of January 2016 alone, a total of 396 Cuban migrants have been picked up in the waters between Florida and Cuba and returned to Cuba. The increases in Fiscal 2015 and so far in Fiscal 2016 are believed to have been caused by the December 2014 announcement of normalization between the two countries and Cubans’ concern that the U.S. might end its special immigration benefits for Cubans.[7]

In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that more of the Cubans who have been interdicted and put on Coast Guard vessels are jumping overboard, trying to poison themselves or making self-inflicted wounds in attempts to be taken to U.S. shore. As a result the Guard has added security personnel on the vessels.

A Guard official recently said, “Immigration policies have not changed, and we urge people not to take to the ocean in unseaworthy vessels. It is illegal and extremely dangerous.”

Some Cubans Returning to Cuba[8]

Nick Miroff of the Washington Post reports there is a “growing number of Cubans who have opted to move back to the island in recent years as the Castro government eases its rigid immigration rules. The returnees are a smaller, quieter counter-current to the surge of Cubans leaving, and their arrival suggests a more dynamic future when their compatriots may come and go with greater ease, helping to rebuild Cuba with earnings from abroad.”

Indeed, Miroff says, these returnees or “repatriates are not coming back for socialism. They are coming back as capitalists. . . . [or as] trailblazing entrepreneurs. Prompted by President Raúl Castro’s limited opening to small business and his 2011 move allowing Cubans to buy and sell real estate, the repatriates are using money saved abroad to acquire property and open private restaurants, guesthouses, spas and retail shops.”

In 2012, Cuban immigration officials said they were processing about 1,000 repatriation applications each year. “The numbers appear to have increased since then, at least judging from anecdotal evidence and the proliferation of new small businesses in Havana run by returnees.”

“Many of the repatriates . . . are returning from Europe and Latin America. Cubans in the [U.S.] may be more reluctant to return to the island because of their relatively high incomes . . . [in the U.S. and because U.S.] economic sanctions also make it essentially illegal for any U.S. resident to go to Cuba and run a business. And the ability to buy property remains mostly restricted to Cubans who live on the island.”

Possible Changes in U.S. Immigration Laws Regarding Cubans

 As noted in previous posts, Cuba and now Central American countries have been vigorous opponents of the U.S. policy of allowing Cubans who arrive on land to come into the U.S. without visas, and the U.S. Administration repeatedly has said it has no intentions of changing that policy.

In the meantime, the only congressional bill to end the special treatment for Cubans arriving by land at the U.S. border that was offered by Representative Paul Gosar (Rep., AZ)—Ending Special National Origin-Based Immigration Programs for Cubans Act of 2015 (H.R.3818)– has gained little support beyond its nine cosponsors.[9]

Under another law, Cubans who have arrived in the U.S. by land are automatically eligible for federal public assistance under the Refugee Resettlement Program. On January 12, 2016, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, introduced a bill to end these automatic federal benefits.[10]

The bill, The Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2016 (S.2441), which has no cosponsors and which was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, would terminate the automatic eligibility for federal public assistance for Cuban nationals under the Refugee Resettlement Program, while maintaining it for those that have been persecuted that are in need of resettlement assistance.

Rubio said, ““It is outrageous whenever the American people’s generosity is exploited. It is particularly outrageous when individuals who claim to be fleeing repression in Cuba are welcomed and allowed to ‎collect federal assistance based on their plight, only to return often to the very place they claimed to be fleeing. The weaknesses in our current law not only allow the flow of American tax dollars into the Castro regime’s coffers, it also undermines the legitimate cause of those Cubans who are truly fleeing repression and political persecution.”

Rubio’s rationale for this bill would also justify the U.S.’ ending its previously mentioned “dry feet” immigration policy.

Yet another special U.S. immigration program for Cubans—the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—is under consideration for cancellation by the Obama Administration.[11]

====================================================

[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity to Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved (Dec. 11, 2015); Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Costa Rica (Dec. 30, 2015).

[2] Date set for the departure of first group of Cuban migrants from Costa Rica, Granma (Jan. 8, 2016); Robles, Cubans, Fearing Loss of Favored Status in U.S., Rush to Make an Arduous Journey, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2016); Reuters, First Group of Stranded Cuban Migrants Leave Costa Rica, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Cubans Begin Pilot Transfer From Costa Rica to Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Stranded Cuban Migrants Brought by Air, Bus to Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Reuters, Mexico to Grant Transit Visas to Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Perez & Cordoba, Stranded Cuban migrants brought by air, bus to Mexico, Wash. Post (Jan. 13, 2016); First group of Cuban migrants arrive in Mexico, Granma (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Stranded Cuban Migrants Make Plans to Cross Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, First of 8,000 Stranded Cuban Migrants Cross Into US, N.Y. Times (Jan. 15, 2016); Barbero, The first Cubans stranded in Central America come to Miami, El Pais (Jan. 19, 2016).

[3] Barbero, Miami seeks help from Obama before the arrival of Cubans, El Pais (Jan. 7, 2016),

[4]  Prensa Latina,Guatemala: Cuban Migrant Issue to be Tackled in regional Meeting, Esacambray (Jan. 20, 2016); Costa Rice Foreign Ministry, Next trip to Cuban migrants will be on February 4 (Jan. 20, 2016); Central American governments agreed to Cubans plan, Granma (Jan. 21, 2016).

[5] U.S.-Cuba Joint Statement on Migration, May 2, 1995, Dispatch Magazine.

[6] Focus on Cuba: Current Issues and Developments at 41 (2008); U.S. Coast Guard, Alien Migrant Interdiction (May 31, 2015)

[7] Clary, Number of Cubans intercepted at sea rises to highest level in two decades, SunSentinel (Nov. 4, 2015); Flechas, U.S. Coast Guard repatriates 169 Cuban migrants, Miami Herald (Jan. 14, 2016)  Rohrer, Post-Thaw, Cuban refugees surge in Florida, Orlando Sentinel (Jan. 19, 2016); Assoc. Press, Coast Guard: Migrants Fleeing Cuba Increasingly Violent, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2016).

[8] Miroff, Amid a historic wave of emigration, some Cubans are returning home, Wash. Post (Jan. 1, 2015).

[9] Gosar, Press Release: Gosar Introduces Bill to End Wet Foot/Dry foot Policy & Stop Cuban Amnesty (Oct. 23, 2015)

[10] Rubio, Rubio Introduces Legislation To End Rampant Abuse of Cuban Refugee Resettlement Benefits (Jan. 12, 2016); Reuters, Republican Rubio Authors Senate Bill to Curb Cuban Immigration Benefits, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2016)  A companion bill (H.R.4247) was introduced in December 2015 in the House by Representative Carlos Curbelo, a fellow Cuban-American Republican from Florida. It has 12 cosponsors and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

[11] U.S. Ending Its Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program? (Jan. 8, 2016).

Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Central America

On December 28, 2015, five Central American countries and Mexico apparently resolved the problem created by the presence of 6,000 to 8,000 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica. Many of the circumstances leading up to the presence of these migrants have been discussed in prior posts.[1] This post will review subsequent events that have made the problem more pressing for Costa Rica, the recent agreed-upon solution for this problem and issues presented for its full implementation.

Recent Developments

On December 18, 2015, Costa Rica suspended its participation in the political bodies of the Central American Integration System (SICA) because of the refusal of three members (Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua) to seek a regional solution to the transit of the migrants on their way to the U.S.[2]

On the same date, Costa Rica announced that it would no longer issue any more transit visas to Cubans seeking to enter the country and that it would deport to Cuba any Cubans in the country without such visas. [3]

On Sunday, December 27, Pope Francis led the Angelus Prayer with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square from the window of his study in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Immediately after the prayer, Francis said, “[M]y thoughts at this time to the numerous Cuban migrants who find themselves in difficulties in Central America, many of whom are victims of human trafficking. I invite the countries of the region to renew generously all necessary efforts to find a timely solution to this humanitarian tragedy.”[4]

Agreed-Upon Solution[5]

On Monday, December 28, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala met in Guatemala with the International Organization for Migration and agreed to what they called a “pilot project” to resolve the Cuban migrants problem. Here the main points of that “pilot program:”

  • In the first week of January 2016, 250 of the 6,000 to 8,000 migrants in Costa Rica will be flown from San Jose, Costa Rica to San Salvador, El Salvador, where they will obtain the latter’s transit visas.
  • These migrants will then be transferred to buses to be taken from El Salvador through Guatemala and Mexico to the latter’s northern border with the U.S. while obtaining on the journey the latter Guatemala and Mexican transit visas.
  • At the U.S. border, the migrants will present their papers to U.S. immigration officials and presumably will be allowed to come into the U.S. under its dry feet/wet feel policy.

In addition, the five Central American countries and Mexico reaffirmed their commitment to combat human trafficking networks, to apply the law “without delay” in order to severely penalize this illegal activity that “unfortunately obliges countries in the region to return to their country of origin all persons entering their territory in an unauthorized manner, ”to prevent irregular migration and to firmly combat the crime of human trafficking, and primarily to protect the integrity of migrants and ensure respect for their fundamental rights,” They also agreed to convene a Regional Conference on Migration to address this issue in its entirety.

El Salvador’s announcement of this agreement stated that its participation in the solution was “in line with the call made by His Holiness Pope Francis, in his message of December 27.” This sentiment was echoed by Edgar Gutiérrez, a political analyst and former Guatemalan foreign minister, who said, “I believe that the pope’s comments were extremely important to accelerate the negotiation process.”

The U.S. and Cuba were not directly involved in the negotiations of this agreement, but according to the Wall Street Journal, both of these countries had pressed the Central American countries to reach a regional agreement on resolving the current situation before the end of this year. They did so after the U.S. reportedly rejected a Costa Rica request for the U.S. to airlift the migrants directly to the U.S. and after Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez stated that “Cuba requests that the solution for the thousands of Cuban migrants in Costa Rica is adequate, taking into account the welfare of these citizens, and that it is as swift as possible.”

Just before this agreement was reached, the New York Times published a letter from Costa Rica’s Ambassador stressing “the growing humanitarian and economic challenge that Costa Rica faces in caring for [the Cuban migrants].”[6]

Concerns About the Agreed-Upon Solution

 The current public information about the agreed-upon solution presents the following questions (and problems):

  • Will the ‘pilot project” be successful?
  • If it is successful, how many separate flights and bus trips will be necessary for all 6,000 to 8,000 migrants legally in Costa Rica? Based upon the 250 migrants involved in the “pilot project,” it will require a total of 32 such ventures for 8,000 migrants.
  • Over what period of time?
  • The “pilot project” and implementation for all of the 6,000 to 8,000 migrants now in Costa Rica with transit visas will be expensive. At only $1,000 per person the total cost would be $6 million to $8 million. Who will pay for it? The countries directly involved clearly are not wealthy countries and presumably cannot afford it. As a result, they probably will ask the U.S. to do. So. Will the U.S. agree to do so?
  • Will the U.S. still have the dry feet/wet feet policy in effect when the “pilot program” and other migrants arrive at the U.S. border and, therefore, be permitted to come into the U.S.?

An overarching concern is whether this agreement will encourage additional Cubans to leave their country in an effort to get to the U.S. next year, especially after Cuban President Raul Castro’s December 29 speech to the country’s National Assembly warning Cubans that next year will be a difficult year for the Cuban economy.[7]

Carlos Raúl Morales, Guatemala’s foreign minister, said, “We are finishing the work of the smugglers, and of course it will incentivize the arrival of more illegals, but in solidarity we could not ignore the drama in Costa Rica.”  Similar thought were offered by Eric Olson, a Latin American analyst at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Central American officials, however, stressed the deal was one-off due to a humanitarian situation and that Costa Rica has ended the transit-visa program that had opened the door to Cuban migrants. “This solution is absolutely an exception for those people who had already arrived legally,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told reporters after the agreement was reached on Monday. “Costa Rica has been very clear that we cannot establish a permanent mechanism” for Cuban immigrants. A Mexican diplomatic official concurred: “The agreement among all of us is that we had to solve this under the principle of shared responsibility and that the problem cannot repeat itself.”

Another result of the surge of Cuban migrants through Central America and of the agreement to resolve the current situation will be the enlistment of all of the Central American countries plus Mexico in Cuba’s effort to persuade the U.S. to terminate as soon as possible its “dry feet/wet feet” immigration policy for Cubans.

This U.S. immigration policy can also be seen as part of the U.S. “visa waiver” program, which currently is under legitimate review for future restrictions to attempt to prevent foreign terrorists from coming to the U.S.[8]

========================================

[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with Opportunity To Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Fail to Resolve Complaints About U.S. Immigration Policies (Dec. 1, 2015); Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved ((Dec. 11, 2015).

[2] Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Costa Rica suspends participation in political bodies of SICA refusal to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize agreed solution to the transit of Cuban migrants, (Dec. 18 2015).

[3]   Assoc.Press, Costa Rica Suspends Visas for Cubans as Regional Protest, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Moves to Deport 56 Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Dec. 26, 2015).

[4] The Words of the Pope at Angelus, 27/12/2015Pope Francis Angelus appeal for Cuban migrants, Va. News (Dec. 27, 2015).

[5] Assoc. Press, Costa Rica: Some Stranded Cubans to be Allowed to Continue North, N.Y. Times (Dec. 28, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Countries in the region agree to give exceptional, safe passage and ordered Cuban migrants (Dec. 28, 2015); Guatemala Foreign Ministry, Press the Republic of Guatemala regarding the meeting held to address the immigration status of Cubans in Costa Rica (Dec. 28, 2015); El Salvador Foreign Ministry, El Salvador reiterates its readiness to cooperate with immigration crisis solution (Dec. 28, 2015); Central American agreement to transfer first group of Cuban migrants, Granma (Dec. 29, 2015); Iliff & Montes, Accord Over Cubans Stranded in Costa Rica Sparks Fear of Illegal Migration Wave, W.S.J. (Dec. 29, 2015).

[6] Macaya, Letter to the New York Times (Dec. 28, 2015).

[7] Iliff & Montes, Accord Over Cubans Stranded in Costa Rica Sparks Fear of Illegal Migration Wave, W.S.J. (Dec. 29, 2015); Assoc. Press, Raul Castro Prepares Cuba for Tough Year Despite US Opening, N.Y. Times (Dec. 29, 2015); Raul Castro, We never accept conditionalities for lacerating the sovereignty and dignity of the homeland, Granma (Dec. 30, 2015).

[8] E.g., Hulse, Some revealing Moments as Congress Closes the Door on 2015, N.Y. Times (Dec. 21, 2015)

Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved  

Previous posts have discussed the plight of Cuban migrants in Central America on their way for entry to the U.S. under its current “dry feet” policy. Nicaragua refused to admit such migrants from Costa Rica, and a regional meeting of foreign ministers failed to resolve the problem.[1] That is still the case.[2]

Other Countries‘ Refusal To Help

On December 8, the President of Costa Rica announced that his country had failed to find other countries in the region that are willing to take any of the approximately 5,000 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica so that they may continue their journey north to the U.S.

Belize has rejected Costa Rica’s request to allow the Cubans to transit through that country while Guatemala has requested a Mexican pledge to allow the migrants to go through that country to the U.S. before Guatemala will let the Cubans enter their country.

Nevertheless, Costa Rica has stated that it would not deport any of the Cubans to their home country against their will.

In the meantime Costa Rica has asked Ecuador, Colombia and Panama to limit the transit of any more Cubans. Panama now has approximately 1,000 Cuban migrants.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Concern

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed its concern about the plight of the Cuban migrants in Costa Rica. The Commission, however, welcomed the decision of the Costa Rican government to grant transit visas to Cubans and to seek cooperation of other states in the region to facilitate the safe, orderly and documented transit of the migrants to the U.S. The Commission also has taken note of the November 30 U.S.-Cuba meeting about various migration issues.

The Commission reiterated that States have an obligation to respect and ensure the human rights of all migrants who are under their jurisdiction. Those rights are derived from the principle of human dignity

More specifically the Commission has urged the Nicaraguan government to investigate its alleged ill-treatment of the migrants. And to implement training programs on guidelines for use of force and the principle of non-discrimination. The Commission also has stressed the principle of non-refoulement, which necessarily implies that people are not rejected at border or expelled without an adequate and individualized analysis of their situations; the absolute prohibition of collective expulsions; and the obligation to take special measures for the different treatment of vulnerable groups within migrants.

In addition, the Commission urged the Cuba not to put obstacles to people wishing to leave the country.

Upcoming Costa Rica-Cuba Bilateral Meetings

On December 13-15, Costa Rica will hold apparently prearranged bilateral meetings in Havana because the published agenda does not include any mention of the migrant crisis. Instead that agenda includes the following:

  1. Create a strategic alliance to link ecosystems biotechnology research
  2. Strengthen ties of cooperation among public universities that have institutes of biotechnology.
  3. Create links between software industries.
  4. Promote training processes in high performance sport developing anti-doping testing.
  5. Increase tourism connectivity by adding Costa Rica to flights that Cuba receives from China, Russia and Turkey,
  6. Exchange experiences and knowledge in health case, especially primary care, cancer treatments and vaccines.
  7. See investment opportunities in Cuba for Costa Rican businesses.

Let us hope that perhaps behind the scenes the presidents of the two countries will discuss and find ways to reduce or solve the crisis.

=================================================

[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity To Reiterates Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Fail To Resolve Complaints About U.S. Immigration Policies (Dec. 1, 2015); President Obama Should Exercise His Legal Authority To End U.S. Admission of Cubans with “Dry Feet” (Dec. 4, 2015).

 

[2] Reuters, Belize Rejects Plan to Allow Cuban Migrants to Pass Through Its Territory, N.Y. Times (Dec. 8, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Min., Belize says Cuban migration must be resolved as a regional issue and for now not serve this population (Dec. 8, 2015); OAS, IACHR Expresses Great Concern Regarding Situation of Cuban Migrants on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua Border (Dec. 8, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Min., Commission expresses deep concern over situation of Cuban migrants at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Dec. 8, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Will Not Send Cuban Migrants Home, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2015);Costa Rica President Sends Message to Cuban migrants to failure of negotiations with countries in the region, Granma (Dec. 9, 2015); Guatemala demands Mexico pledge over blocked Cuban migrants, Tico Times (Dec. 9, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Min., Bilateral ministerial meetings agenda official visit to Cuba (Dec. 10, 2015).

 

 

Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity To Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies

U.S. immigration laws and policies regarding Cubans have reemerged into the spotlight. After a brief look at those laws and policies, we will examine the new controversy arising over Cubans in Central America.

 U.S. Laws and Policies[1]

In 1966, the U.S. adopted the Cuban Adjustment Act that provided certain immigration benefits to Cubans. In 1995 this statute was amended to allow anyone who fled Cuba and entered the U.S. to pursue permanent residency a year later.

In addition, the U.S. and Cuba in 1994 and 1995 entered into migration agreements to promote “safe, legal and orderly migration” between the two countries. Under one of its provisions, the U.S. agreed to stop permitting Cubans intercepted at sea to come to the U.S. On the other hand, this agreement did not touch on the U.S. practice and policy of admitting Cubans who arrive on land at a U.S. port of entry. This is the so-called U.S. “wet feet/dry feet” policy.

Since the U.S.-Cuba December 2014 rapprochement, the Cuban government repeatedly has complained about this Act and the wet feet/dry feet policy and has requested the U.S. to abolish them. The U.S., however, has consistently told the Cuban government that the U.S. was not planning to change its immigration policies regarding Cubans.[2]

Current Issues About Cubans in Central America[3]

As noted in an earlier post, since the December 2014 U.S.-Cuba rapprochement there have been increasing numbers of Cubans coming to the U.S. to take advantage of the provisions of the previously mentioned Act and policy before, they fear, those provisions will be rescinded. For example, more than 45,000 Cubans arrived at U.S. checkpoints along the Texas-Mexico border in the U.S. fiscal year ending September 30, 2015.

Many of the Cubans flew from Cuba to Ecuador, which allows them entry without visa; and from there they traveled by land through Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica with the objective of continuing through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S. For all their current frustration over recent actions by Nicaragua, most of the Cubans’ anger is aimed at the Cuban government, which they accuse of cronyism, mismanaging the economy and limiting free speech. One of the Cubans, a teacher and a father of two, now in Costa Rica said that his grandmother had sold her house for $5,000 to pay for his passage to the U.S. and that he cannot return because his family is waiting for him to start sending money back.

This situation recently reached a new level with the precipitating events taking place in Central America. Over 1,500 Cubans on their migration have been in Costa Rica after initially being excluded from that country and then admitted after Costa Rica last Friday (November 13) said it would be issuing special seven-day transit visas to Cubans.

On Sunday (November 15), Nicaragua, a close ally of Cuba, closed its border with Costa Rica. This Nicaraguan action forced the Cubans to turn the Costa Rican side of a border station into a temporary shelter with makeshift beds, piles of luggage and improvised washing lines. Hundreds of others are being housed in buildings around a nearby small town.

Nicaraguan Military @ Border
Nicaraguan Military @ Its Border
Cubans @ Costa Rican Bprder
Cubans @ Costa Rican Bprder

 

 

 

 

 

Nicaragua simultaneously asserted that Costa Rica was creating a “humanitarian crisis” by allowing the Cubans into its country. Costa Rica was accused of “failing to comply with its obligations as a state” and of violating Nicaragua’s sovereignty.

The Nicaraguan complaint was confirmed the next day in a blistering press release in which it “deplores and condemns . . . the irresponsible, disrespectful attitude [towards] all international conventions and agreements on human mobility [by] Government of Costa Rica.” The latter allegedly had violated Nicaragua’s “national territory, our sovereignty” and had made “the unprecedented claim . . . [to the] right to determine the entry into our territory of people in a situation of illegality and violent behavior intended to” occur in Nicaragua. The statement also reported that on Tuesday (November 17), Nicaragua would bring this alleged “serious crisis” to the Security Commission of the Central American Integration System, SICA. Nicaragua also said it would present its complaint to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Theses accusations immediately were rejected by Costa Rica, and on Tuesday (November 17) Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez proposed the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” for Cubans transiting Central America. “Countries have to prevent migrants falling into the hands of networks and coyotes, because remember that the migrants’ purpose is to arrive in the [U.S.] and we will try to do everything possible [for them] to achieve” that goal. The Foreign Minister also said that “Costa Rica is neither the origin nor the destination country for the Cubans, and the government has undertaken all necessary efforts to deal with this situation responsibly under the strict guidance of international treaties” and that he had not ruled out taking the migrant problem before the Organization of American States (OAS) and other international forums. In the meantime Costa Rica was trying to organize a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Central American countries and Mexico.

 SICA’s Consideration of the Situation[4]

As indicated above, Nicaragua’s complaint was considered on Tuesday by a subcommittee of the Security Commission of the Central American Integration System, SICA, in preparation for the Thursday meeting of the Commission.[5]

At that later meeting, Nicaragua accused Costa Rica of attempting to avoid discussion of the issue at SICA and to “systematically block” Nicaragua’s request. It also was alleged that Costa Rica never warned Nicaragua that more than 1,900 Cubans were about to show up at the border. The Nicaragua Foreign Ministry’ s press release regarding this meeting again was blistering in its complaint against Costa Rica. It said the following:

  • Nicaragua denounced “the systematic blocking [by] . . . Costa Rica” of SICA’s considering the “irregular and illegal migration of Cubans.”
  • Nicaragua also denounced “the arrogance of Costa Rica . . . ignoring international law and agreements . . . has violated our territory, threatened and blocked Trade and International Freight, and is concentrating more Cuban citizens on our southern border, to pressure and blackmail our government.”
  • Costa Rica’s suggested humanitarian corridor would subject “Americans, including children, to “hazards, even dying, in an effort to reach the [U.S.]”
  • Nicaragua proposed that SICA demand that the U.S. provide reciprocity to Central American citizens seeking entry to the U.S. in the same manner that it treats Cuban migrants.

Costa Rica denied these allegations, and the subcommittee agreed on the need to see this issue from a holistic perspective and human rights, not as a security issue. Afterwards, Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister said, “The countries [of SICA] have reacted in a positive and supportive way. They have understood that the humanitarian aspect is at stake and should be tackled, comprehensively, by the entire region.”

On Monday (November 23) the SICA Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs along with others, by invitation, from Cuba, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico will meet to find a comprehensive solution to the situation.

Cuba’s Response to Central American Situation[6]

On Tuesday (November 17), the Cuban Foreign Ministry issued a statement about the situation in Central America that gave greater prominence to its objection to the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act and the dry feet/wet feet policy. Here are the main points of the Cuba statement:

  • These Cubans in Central America “have become victims of traffickers and criminal gangs which unscrupulously profit from their control of the passage of persons through South America, Central America and Mexico.”
  • “Cuban authorities have maintained ongoing contact with the governments of the countries involved, with the goal of finding a rapid, appropriate solution, which would take into consideration the wellbeing of the Cuban citizens.”
  • “The Ministry of Foreign Relations would like to emphasize that these citizens are victims of the politicization of the migration issue on the part of the United States government, the Cuban-American Adjustment Act, in particular, and the application of the so-called “wet foot-dry foot” policy, which gives Cubans differentiated treatment – the only one of its kind in the world – which admits them immediately and automatically, regardless of the route or means used, even if they arrive in an illegal manner to U.S. territory.”
  • “This policy encourages irregular immigration from Cuba to the United States, and constitutes a violation of the letter and spirit of Migratory Accords currently in effect, in which both countries assumed the responsibility to guarantee legal, safe, orderly emigration.”
  • The statement went on to object to another U.S. immigration policy affecting Cuba: “the U.S. government’s continued maintenance of the so-called Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program . . . to encourage Cuban doctors and other medical personnel to abandon their missions in third countries, and emigrate to the United States. This is a reprehensible practice, meant to damage Cuban cooperation programs, and deny Cuba and many countries the vital human resources they need.”
  • “The Ministry of Foreign Relations reiterates once again that the ‘wet foot-dry foot’ policy and the ‘Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program’ are inconsistent with the current bilateral context, impede to the normalization of migratory relations between Cuba and the United States, and create problems for other countries.”
  • “The Ministry of Foreign Relations confirms that Cuban citizens who have left the country legally, and abide by current Cuban migratory law, have the right to return to Cuba, if they so desire.”

Conclusion

I agree that special immigration benefits for Cubans arriving on land at U.S. ports of entry and the risk that they will be eliminated is prompting many Cubans to try to come to the U.S. as soon as possible. I also agree that these U.S. laws and policies should be eliminated as soon as possible.[7] Although I am a retired attorney, I have not attempted to determine whether the Obama Administration on its own by executive order or changes in regulations could do this or whether it requires Congress to pass a bill to do this. (I would appreciate comments on this issue by those with more knowledge of the issues.)

I also agree that the U.S. as soon as possible should abolish the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program as discussed in prior posts.[8] Again I have not attempted to determine whether the Obama Administration on its own by executive order or changes in regulations could do this or whether it requires Congress to pass a bill to do this. (I also would appreciate comments on this issue by those with more knowledge of the issues.)

I originally was baffled by the U.S.’ continued assertions that there would be no changes in U.S. immigration policies regarding Cuba because those policies, in my opinion, are so illogical and inappropriate for countries with normal relations. Now I suspect that those assertions were based upon the Administration’s assessment of the difficulty (or impossibility) in obtaining Congressional approval of any necessary legislative changes on these issues and the Administration’s belief or hope that such assertions would discourage Cubans from immediately accelerating their plans or desire to leave Cuba for the U.S.

I reach these conclusions even though I suspect that Nicaragua’s precipitating the current problem in Central America was at the request of its close ally, Cuba, because, in my opinion, (a) Nicaragua would not do anything regarding Cuba against the latter’s wishes; (b) Cuba is concerned about the number of Cubans leaving the island and with Nicaragua’s assistance perhaps could stop a major route for such an exodus; (c) Cuba would like to have another occasion or reason to blame the U.S. for the problem; and (d) Nicaragua’s complaints against Costa Rica are absurd.

Now we will see what happens next Monday at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the SICA members and their guests.

=======================================================

[1] U.S. Pub. L. 89-732, 80 Stat. 1161 (Nov. 7, 1966); U.S. Pub. L. 94-571, 90 Stat. 2703 (Oct. 20, 1976) U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, Green Card for a Cuban Native or CitizenThe Cuban Adjustment Act, Wikipedia; Moffett, U.S. Allows Cuban Migrants Different Treatment aboutnews; Wet feet/dry feet policy, Wikipedia; Johnson, Cuban Migration: Averting a Crisis, Imm. Policy Center (June 2003).

[2] E.g., Results of U.S.-Cuba Discussions After Ceremonial Opening of U.S. Embassy in Havana (Aug. 18, 2015).

[3] Salinas, Nicaragua deports hundreds of Cuban migrants back to Costa Rica, El Pais (Nov. 17, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Regional government seeks to arrange an appointment to find about our a migration of Cubans (Nov. 17, 2015) (Ministry’s English translation); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Government Rejects Accusations of Costa Rica Nicaragua Case for Cuban Migrants (Nov. 16, 2015); Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, Nota de Prensa (NP 060-2015) (Nov. 16, 2015); Tensions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica by Cuban migrants; convene meeting of SICA and Cuba blames US (Nov. 18, 2015); Murillo, Costa Rica struggling to deal with Cuban migrant crisis, El Pais (Nov. 19, 2015); Reuters, Stranded at Nicaragua Border, Cuban Migrants’ American Dream in Peril, N.Y. Times (Nov. 18, 2015).

[4] Nicaragua Foreign Ministry Press Release, COMUNICADO “NICARAGUA DENUNCIA BLOQUEO SISTEMÁTICO DE COSTA RICA EN EL SICA A DISCUSIÓN SOBRE EMIGRACIÓN IRREGULAR EN LA REGIÓN CENTROAMERICANA, (NP-063-2015) (Nov. 19, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Says Regional Bloc to Consider Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Nov. 19, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, SICA supports Costa Rica proposal for Council of Foreign Ministers of the region to find solution to migration crisis, (Nov. 19, 2015).

[5] SICA is the “institutional framework for Central American Regional Integration” that was created in 1991. Its current members are Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Its headquarters is in El Salvador.

[6] Ministry of Foreign Relations Statement on Migratory Policy, Granma (Nov. 18, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Blames U.S. for Migrant Crisis in Central America, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba Blames US for Instigating Surge of Migrants From Island, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2015).

[7] E.g., Results of U.S.-Cuba Discussions After Ceremonial Opening of U.S. Embassy in Havana (Aug. 18, 2015).

[8] E.g., New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel ( Nov. 23, 2014). Another blog post has rejected the U.S. claim that the service of Cuban medical personnel on that country’s foreign medical missions constitutes illegal forced labor.