Friday, December 26, 2014

Detente with US has Cubans worried about special immigration privileges

Detente with US has Cubans worried about special immigration privileges
Widespread jubilation over historic US-Cuba detente soured by fear that
warming relations will end Cubans' unique fast track to legal American
Associated Press in Havana, Thursday 25 December 2014 19.48 GMT

Cubans arriving at a US border or airport automatically receive
permission to stay in the United States under policies stemming from
1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. Photograph: Ramon Espinosa/AP
Like tens of thousands of Cubans, Gerardo Luis wants to get to the
United States and he's suddenly worried that time may be running out.

Across an island where migrating north is an obsession, the widespread
jubilation over last week's historic US-Cuba detente is soured by fear
that warming relations will eventually end Cubans' unique fast track to
legal American residency.

For nearly a half-century, the Cuban Adjustment Act has given Cubans who
arrive in the US a virtually guaranteed path to legal residency and
eventual citizenship. The knowledge that they will be shielded from
deportation has drawn hundreds of thousands of Cubans on perilous raft
trips to Florida and land journeys through Central America and Mexico.

"If they take away the adjustment law, it would mean Cubans would end up
just like all the other Hispanics who want to enter the United States,"
said Luis, a 36-year-old construction worker who said he may try to
reach Mexico and walk across the border if he doesn't get a visa soon.

US officials say there are no immediate plans to change immigration laws
or policy. But with the US and Cuba negotiating a return to full
diplomatic relations, many Cubans are wondering how long their
extraordinary privilege can survive under restored diplomacy, and are
thinking about speeding up plans to get to the US.

"I don't know if they will take it away," Angela Moreno, a 67-year-old
retiree said of the preferential treatment, "but if they do, Cubans who
go to the United States will have to do it like people from other

Cubans arriving at a US border or airport automatically receive
permission to stay in the United States under policies stemming from the
1966 act, which allows them to apply for permanent residency after a
year, almost always successfully.

Seeking to discourage mass migrations by sea, the United States
developed its so-called "wet foot, dry foot policy," in which migrants
who make it to the US are automatically allowed to stay. Those stopped
at sea are either sent back to their homeland or to a third country if
they can prove a credible fear of persecution.

US Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said he welcomed President
Barack Obama's move to create a "modern relationship" with Cuba, but
Congress is not likely to alter the Cuban Adjustment Act or the US trade
embargo, until there have been significant steps by the Castro government.

"Major changes to a law like that or to the embargo are not going to
happen unless people like me support those changes, and I'm not going to
support them unless I see some movement toward freedom" Nelson told The
Associated Press.

However, the restoration of diplomatic relations could cause its own
Undocumented mirants caught right after crossing the border are subject
to swift deportation without a hearing, a process known as expedited
removal. Cubans are exempted simply by presenting proof of their

Randy McGrorty, the director of Miami's Catholic Legal Services, which
helps migrants settle in the United States, noted that a section of the
Immigration and Naturalization Act dealing with expedited removal of
migrants excludes people from "a country in the Western Hemisphere with
whose government the United States does not have full diplomatic
relations" without mentioning Cuba by name.

It's unclear how re-establishing full relations would affect that vital
section of immigration law, he said.

The Cuban Adjustment Act was designed in an era when politics was a
factor in many migrants' decision to leave. In recent years Cubans have
increasingly left primarily to reunite with their families and seek
better economic opportunities.

President Raúl Castro's 2012 relaxation of Cuba's immigration laws means
citizens can leave without applying for special permits, and maintain
many of the island's social benefits even after moving to the US. Along
with US measures including the granting of five-year, multiple-entry
visas, that has contributed to a rising flow of Cubans and
Cuban-American traveling back and forth between the two countries.

US Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican, has criticized a
growing tendency by migrants to constantly travel between the island and
the United States, warning that it endangers the special treatment
Cubans have long enjoyed.
If the preferential policy is in place to aid exiles fleeing political
oppression, such travel "undermines that argument," Rubio said in
August. "That sort of travel puts at risk the status Cubans have."

The US Interests Section, which handles American consular affairs in
Havana in the absence of a full embassy, approved more than 33,000
non-immigrant visas for Cubans to visit the US last year, a 99% increase.

It has also become must faster to get such a visa, with the wait time
dropping from 57 months in 2012 to five months this year. Still, it can
be a grueling process. Cubans spend hours each day, starting at dawn, in
a plaza near the US mission that is known as the "park of sorrows"
because of the long waits and the frequent rejection of paperwork.

One waiting outside the interests section this week was 75-year-old
Magaly Ruedas, who wants to join her extended family in the United
States and hopes the benefits for Cubans will remain in place. If the
law changed, "I think that would hurt Cubans and I don't think Obama or
Raúl intended to do that," she said.

Source: Detente with US has Cubans worried about special immigration
privileges | World news | -

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