Friday, January 30, 2015

Fear of immigration policy change triggers new wave of Cuban migrants

Fear of immigration policy change triggers new wave of Cuban migrants
By Nick Miroff January 27

HAVANA — President Obama's opening to Cuba has accelerated a surge in
Cuban migration to the United States, the latest U.S. statistics show,
as many on the island grow worried that America's long-standing
immigration benefits for Cubans are now in jeopardy.

Last month the Coast Guard intercepted 481 Cubans in rickety boats and
rafts, a 117 percent increase from December 2013. But the boaters
account for only a fraction of those attempting to reach the United
States. At the Miami airport and ports of entry along the Mexican
border, the number of Cubans who arrived seeking refuge jumped to 8,624
during the last three months of 2014, a 65 percent increase from the
previous year.

Many Cubans have heard warnings for years that their unique immigration
privileges — which essentially treat anyone from the island who sets
foot on U.S. terra firma as a political refugee — would not last forever.

And they have seen Cuban American lawmakers such as Sen. Marco Rubio
(R-Fla.) increasingly object that too many recent arrivals make a
mockery of their refugee perks by going back to the island for cheap
dental work or Santeria ceremonies.

U.S. officials have repeatedly given assurances that these migration
laws have not changed. But the surprise nature of Obama's Cuba move —
after 18 months of secret talks with officials of the Castro government
— has reinforced the sense that any of the long-standing pillars of U.S.
policy toward the island could fall without warning.

"Anyone who is thinking about making the leap should do it as soon as
possible," said "Pupi," one of the Web users offering advice on busy
chat forums such as Cubans in Flight and Cuba in Miami where migrants
trade tips and share the stories of their journeys.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection could not provide an up-to-date
monthly breakdown of Cuban arrivals. But at U.S. border crossings with
Mexico, 6,489 Cuban migrants arrived during the last three months of
2014, up from 4,328 the year before. The number of Cubans processed
through the agency's Miami field office rose from 893 to 2,135 over that
same period.

Many of those Cubans flew straight into the Miami airport, having
boarded flights in Madrid; Nassau, Bahamas; or elsewhere with passports
from Spain and other third countries. Upon reaching U.S. Customs, they
pull out their Cuban documents and request asylum, or ask to stay under
the protections offered by the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which offers
permanent residency to Cubans one year after arrival in the United States.

When U.S. diplomats traveled to the island last week for talks on
migration with their Havana counterparts, they were emphatic that the
benefits conferred on Cuban migrants were not up for debate.

"We explained to the Cuban government that our government is completely
committed to upholding the Cuban Adjustment Act," said Alex Lee, the
State Department official leading the migration-related elements of the
talks, which also paved the way for each country to reopen an embassy in
the other's capital.

Cuban officials at the talks repeated their adamant opposition to the
Cuban Adjustment Act and the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy under which
Cubans are eligible to stay in the United States if they touch U.S.
soil. Those intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba.

Source: Fear of immigration policy change triggers new wave of Cuban
migrants - The Washington Post -

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