Deciphering the new U.S. policies that affect Cuban migrants
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
From the streets of Havana to the Mexican border with the United States
to South Florida, there was a new immigration reality Friday, the day
after the Obama administration said Cubans would no longer be allowed to
enter the United States without visas.
It turned on its head more than two decades of immigration policy that
essentially allowed Cubans who made it to U.S. shores by sea or showed
up at U.S. borders — even if their trips were arranged by people
smugglers — to enter the United States legally and a year later become
eligible for permanent residency.
Because of the swiftness of the change — the new migration understanding
between Cuba and the United States took effect immediately after signing
Thursday afternoon — there was plenty of confusion about what the policy
will and won't do. Most provisions of previous migration accords between
the two countries in the 1980s and 1990s remain in effect but the
executive agreement signed in Havana by the two countries covers new ground.
"Who was going to expect that all of a sudden they would come up with
this news?" Midamis Martínez Cruz, 37, of Miami, asked Friday.
Dennis Pupo Cruz, her brother, is stuck on the Mexican side of the
bridge that connects Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, with the United States. He
wasn't allowed to automatically enter the United States but was told he
could apply for political asylum.
"We do not know what to do yet," said Pupo Cruz , who does not want to
return to Cuba.
Although the policy shift was front-page news and amply aired on
state-run television on the island, "people are confused," said Hatzel
Vela, a reporter for WPLG Local 10 who was in Havana when the news
broke. "They're wondering if, for example, they come with a visa whether
the Cuban Adjustment Act will still apply."
The answer to that question is yes — unless Congress repeals it.
Here's a look at some of the most significant aspects of the new policy
governing Cuban migrants:
▪ The elimination of automatic entry for Cubans who arrive in the U.S.
without visas: This ends the policy known as wet foot, dry foot that
allowed those who arrived on U.S. soil (dry foot) to remain in this
country. Cuban migrants entering the United States illegally will be
"The aim here is to treat Cuban migrants in a manner consistent with
migrants who come here illegally from other countries, particularly
other countries in the same region," said Homeland Security Secretary
The wet foot part — return to Cuba or resettlement in a third country
for those picked up at sea or who manage to penetrate the U.S. Navy base
at Guantánamo Bay — will continue to be policy.
The Cuban government also might agree to accept on a "case-to-case"
basis other Cubans under deportation orders who are not covered under
the migration understanding, Johnson said.
▪ Acceptance of Cuban citizens deported by the United States: Cuba has
agreed to accept the return of its citizens trying to enter the United
States illegally by air, land or sea if the time between when they leave
Cuba and the time when the United States begins deportation proceedings
is less than four years.
Johnson said that eventually the United States would like Cuba to agree
to accept every Cuban deported from the United States.
A government declaration published in Granma, the official newspaper of
Cuba's Communist Party, said the agreement implied that the United
States will return to the island all Cuban citizens detected by the
United States "when they attempt to enter or remain [in the United
States] irregularly in violation of the law."
Meanwhile, Josefina Vidal, Cuba's chief negotiator in talks with the
United States, said Cuba "will continue to guarantee the right of Cuban
citizens to travel and emigrate and return to the country in accordance
with the requirements of our migration law."
She called the new policy an "important step" that is "in the national
interest of Cuba and also in the national interest of the United States."
▪ Certain aspects of a preferential policy for Cuban migrants will
remain: An annual visa lottery that hands out a minimum of 20,000 visas
to come to the United States remains in effect as does a family
reunification program that allows residents of the United States to
sponsor their family members.Approved family members who qualify for
this program will be able to travel to the United States before their
immigrant visas become available, rather than wait in Cuba until the
visas are ready.
As always, Cubans may apply for asylum and entry into the United States
if they can establish a "well-founded fear of persecution."
"A Cuban migrant [arriving at the U.S. border], like a Guatemalan
migrant or a migrant from El Salvador, can assert a claim of credible
fear at the border when they arrive," Johnson said. But now "our
approach to Cubans arriving [today] will be the same as those arriving
from other countries in Central America, Mexico and otherwise."
Previously, while awaiting an asylum determination, a Cuban would have
been paroled into the United States and could begin to receive benefits
under the Cuban Adjustment Act. "There's not not going to be a separate
queue for Cubans," said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. "If
they are not paroled in, they will not be able to adjust and achieve the
benefits under the CAA."
Cubans who arrive with visas will be eligible for the Cuban Adjustment
Act, which allows Cubans to apply for green cards and permanent
residency after they have been in the United States for a year and a day.
But Vidal said Cuba also would like to see the Cuban Adjustment Act
repealed so that there really is a normal migration relationship between
Cuba and the United States.
Johnson said the Obama administration would also "welcome repeal by
Congress, our Congress."
It's unclear what the incoming administration's position is on the Cuban
Adjustment Act or if President-elect Donald Trump would try to reverse
the new Cuban immigration policy.
Some analysts speculate he won't.
"Trump is unlikely to reverse: such an action would be at odds with his
campaign promises to enforce orderly migration flows," said Jason
Marczak, director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the
Washington-based Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.
▪ Cubans put on more equal footing with people from other countries who
want to come to the United States: Haitians, who suffered a devastating
hurricane seven years ago and more recent natural disasters that have
slammed an already weak economy, said they were surprised and gratified
that there will now be some equity in U.S. immigration policy.
"I think it levels the playing field for the Haitian and the Cuban
immigrants who are coming here because the Haitian community has been at
a disadvantage since the policy," said Fayola Delica, who recently lost
a bid to represent state House District 108 and is the niece of the late
Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, a Haitian human rights activist. "But yet I do
hope there will be a replacement policy for both communities."
▪ An end to the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program: Cuban
doctors and other medical professionals working in third countries will
no longer be given preferential entry into the United States. Vidal said
that the program was undermining Cuba's international medical
About 30 Cuban doctors gathered in Bogotá, Colombia, on Friday to
protest the end of the program. In the past 10 years, about 8,000 Cuban
professionals have taken advantage of the program to come to the United
States from Venezuela, Brazil and other countries where they have been
serving on Cuban medical missions.
"We're fearful about what will happen to our colleagues," said Dr.
Alberto López, one of the protestors, in a telephone interview. "There
are a lot of people en route [to the United States] and we don't know
what will happen because they can neither return to their missions nor
take advantage of parole."
▪ Return of Cubans who are excludable from the United States under U.S.
laws: The Cuban government had agreed to take back 2,746 Cubans who were
deemed excludable from the United States after the 1980 Mariel boatlift.
Some on that list have already been sent back to Cuba or died.
Cuba also has agreed to consider accepting some others who emigrated and
have committed crimes.
One issue that is yet to be explained by immigration officials is what
happens to Cubans who arrive with visitor visas then overstay their
visas and seek residence under the Cuban Adjustment Act after more than
a year in the country. Neither Johnson nor other top officials have
Miami Herald Staff Writer Jacqueline Charles and el Nuevo Herald
reporters Alfonso Chardy, Abel Fernández and Mario J. Pentón contributed
to this report.
Mimi Whitefield: 305-376-3727, @HeraldMimi
Source: Deciphering the new U.S. poicy for Cuban migrants: what it means
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