U.S. and Cuba Fail To Resolve Complaints About U.S. Immigration Policies

On November 30 in Washington, D.C. the United States and Cuba held their biannual migration talks without progress in resolving major disputes over U.S. immigration benefits for certain Cubans. Immediately afterwards Cuba imposed travel restrictions on Cuban medical personnel.

Summary of the Bilateral Talks[1]

The Cuban delegation reiterated its deep concern over the U.S.’ Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet foot-dry foot” policy. Cuba insisted that this U.S. policy has encouraged illegal, unsafe and disorderly migration and trafficking in migrants and irregular entries into the U.S. from third countries. This happened most recently in Costa Rica and other Central American countries.[2] Cuba insisted that this policy violates the letter and spirit of their Migratory Agreements in force, by which the U.S. undertook to discontinue the practice of admitting Cuban migrants who reached their territory by irregular means, to ensure a safe and orderly legal migration between the two countries.

The U.S., however, continued to assert that it did not intend to make changes in this immigration policy.

The Cuban delegation also reiterated its objections to the U.S. “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals.” Cuba stressed that this was a reprehensible practice aimed at damaging the Cuban international medical mission programs and deprived Cuba and many needy countries of vital human resources. According to Cuba, this U.S. program also Is inconsistent with the countries’ bilateral Migratory Agreements, hinders the normalization of their migratory relations and generates problems to other countries in the region.

Nevertheless the Cuban delegation emphasized that the talks took place in a friendly and professional environment, that other aspects of migratory relations were evaluated, including the implementation of existing agreements, the issuance of visas for immigrants and temporary visitors, the actions of both parties to address illegal people smuggling and document fraud. The two delegations agreed on the positive results that had occurred at the prior bilateral technical meeting on immigration fraud, held in March 2015 in Havana.

The delegation of Cuba conveyed its willingness to continue these talks and invited a U.S. delegation to do so in Havana in the first half of 2016,

The U.S. Department of State spokesperson was much briefer in comments that had been prepared before the talks. She said, “Today the U.S. and Cuba will hold their biannual migration talks . . .  to discuss continuing implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, which provide for the safe, orderly, and legal migration of Cubans to the U.S.”

The U.S. spokesperson added, “The U.S. “will be proposing . . . a discussions on how both governments can contribute to combating smuggling organizations that take advantage of Cuban migrants. Additionally, we are looking for solutions to the challenge if migrants do not have a valid asylum claim or other legal basis to remain in a country. We recognize that governments have the sovereign right to return them to their home country. Any and all returns should be carried out safely and with dignity.”

New Cuban Exit-Restrictions on Cuban Medical Professionals[3]

After the talks in Washington had been concluded and the U.S. continued refusal to change its Cuban medical professional parole program, the Cuban government in Havana announced that effective December 7 Cuban health professionals in specialties that have been drained by large-scale emigration in recent years will now be required to obtain permission from Cuba’s Health Ministry officials in order to leave the country.

These specialties included anesthesiology, cardiology, pediatrics, neurosurgery, nephrology, obstetrics, gynaecology, orthopaedics, traumatology and neonatology. In reviewing applications for exit visas in these specialties, the Ministry will analyze the proposed dates of travel, the coverage of the individuals’ practice in their absence and guaranteeing the accessibility, quality, continuity and stable functioning of Cuban health services

Conclusion

I agree that special immigration benefits for Cubans arriving on land in the U.S. should be eliminated as soon as possible.[4] 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 on this subject, but I plan to conduct at least a preliminary legal analysis of this issue for a future post. (I would appreciate comments on this issue by those with more knowledge of the issues.)

I also agree that the U.S. should abolish the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program as discussed in prior posts.[5] 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.

As a result, I am disappointed that the U.S. has not changed these policies.

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[1] Migration talks between Cuba and the United States, Granma (Nov. 30, 2015); Press Release issued by the Cuban Delegation to the Round of Migration Talks between Cuba and the United States. Washington, November 30, 2015; U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Nov. 30, 2015); Whitefield, Despite talks, U.S.-Cuba migration impasse continues, Miami Herald (Nov. 30, 2015).

[2] 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).

[3] Assoc. Press, Cuba Imposes Travel Permit for Doctors to Limit Brain Drain, N.Y. Times (Dec. 1, 2015); Declaration of the Revolutionary Government, Granma (Nov. 30, 2015). The Cuban Government’s Declaration also reiterated its complaints about the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act and the dry feet/wet feet policy.

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

[5] E.g., New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel ( Nov. 23, 2014).