Diplomacy Between US and Cuba May End Historic Fast-track Immigration Policy

The reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba on July 20th formally reestablished diplomatic ties between the former Cold War adversaries.

However, the policy granting Cuban immigrants quick legal status in the U.S. may, as a result, be in jeopardy.

Cubans residing in the U.S. for at least one year and one day have been eligible to apply for Permanent Residency, since the passage of the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1966.

With the addition of the “Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy” in 1994, any Cuban who arrives on U.S. soil, regardless of how they enter, is eligible for protection.

Some policy experts have indicated that the policy is no longer relevant and, in their view, may be unfair.

Mark Rosenbloom, a policy expert at the Migration Policy Institute think-tank was quoted by the Houston Chronicle: “There’s a dissonance between all the work we’re [the U.S. government] doing to return people to Central America who have valid humanitarian claims, and then we just admit all the Cubans.”

Phil Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center, was quoted in the Washington Post, as saying current policy has the opposite intended effect: “The CAA does more to weaken political opposition in Cuba than any other factor, draining the country of tens of thousands each year that are looking for other options.”

Cubans are offered immediate protection here, with the inherent assumption that all are political refugees.  This was a result of the Cold War era perceptions, attempting to undermine Castro’s communist regime.

The CAA allows Cuban parolees—as they are called—to immediately receive many of the same public benefits that other refugees and asylees access here.  These include benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, employment authorization, and housing assistance.

Despite widespread push for reform, however, government officials—including those from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security—have indicated that there are no immediate plans of amending the CAA in the near future.

The numbers of Cubans attempting to reach the U.S. have increased in recent months.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the U.S. government reported that between October-December of 2014, 8,700 Cubans entered the United States along the U.S.-Mexican border, which was twenty-five percent more than the total for all of 2010.

The Coast Guard experienced an increase in apprehensions at sea as well, interdicting 481 migrants in December of 2014, a 117% increase from December 2013.

In addition, Aljazeera reported that the total number of Cuban nationals encountered by Customs and Border Protection during the first three months of 2015 was double that of the same period during 2014, rising from 4,296 to 9,371.

The reopening of the embassy culminates a number of events during the past several years that have signaled improved relations between the two countries.

In 2009, President Barak Obama announced that Cubans in the U.S. would be allowed return to Cuba to visit family, and send remittances to them.

During a memorial for Nelson Mandela in 2013, Castro and Obama shook hands, marking only the second time in 60 years this had occurred between U.S. and Cuban presidents.

Then in December of 2014, following a year of secret meetings brokered by Pope Francis, Obama announced that relations with the former adversary would normalize.

In May, Cuba was removed from the list of countries with state-sponsored terrorism, and on July 20th, full diplomatic relations were resumed, as the U.S. embassy in Havana was formerly opened.

Not all have been supportive of normalized relations, however, as prominent U.S. officials such as presidential candidates Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida—both of Cuban descent—have promised to block the appointment of an ambassador.

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