HAVANA TIMES – For at least a week, Cuban emigrants without a US visa will be treated in the same way as the rest of the “illegals” who try to enter that country, according to the White House. For the first time in half a century, Washington is committed to returning them and Havana to accept all without exception.
The new bilateral migration agreement eliminates the policy of “Dry Feet – Wet Feet”, in force since 1995, after the rafters crisis that led to the flight of 40,000 islanders. Since that time Cubans who managed to tread United States soil were put on a fast track to permanent residence, while those caught at sea were returned to the island.
Diplomat Josefina Vidal, the chief Cuban negotiator with the United States, explained that “The Cuban Adjustment Act, when it was approved in 1966, empowered the Secretary of Justice to “adjust” the status of Cubans who are in USA. The policy of “Dry Feet – Wet Feet” of 1995 expanded its reach. It meant that any Cuban who reached US territory was immediately admitted. Now the number of people who can apply for benefits of the Adjustment Act has been greatly reduced.
“The privileges remain, what changes is the way in which they are applied,” added Gustavo Machin, deputy director of the North American desk of the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Thus, the validity of the Cuban Adjustment Act allows president-elect, Donald Trump, to return, if he desires, to the practice of granting residence automatically to all Cubans who arrive on US soil and even to those who navigate its territorial waters..
However, it is unlikely that Donald Trump will oppose a policy that tends to reduce the number of immigrants coming to the United States. His intention to minimize immigration has been ratified in almost every one of his speeches. He even counts on the support of Cuban-American congress people who, paradoxically, have been campaigning for a long time against the Adjustment Law and the privileges it grants to their compatriots.
Perhaps the greatest gain for the Cuban government from this new immigration agreement is that it also puts an end to the “express visas” program for Cuban doctors working on missions in third countries. According to the US Immigration and Citizenship Service, between 2006 and 2015, more than 8,000 Cuban health professionals came to the United States, availing themselves of this possibility. This was a tremendous loss for a country where the sale of medical services represents 70% of the economy’s income.
The great danger for Cuba is that Washington managed to put on the negotiating table the fate of almost 40,000 Cuban-origin criminals who are in the United States waiting for Cuba to accept their deportation. Some of them have spent long years in US prisons and could raise levels of social violence on the island in case they return. Already the Central American countries live something similar with the repatriated “Maras” from the USA, which have generated an uncontrollable security crisis.
Both Cuba and the US are presenting the agreement as a decisive step towards the normalization of migration between the two countries. However, in this issue, as in many others in bilateral relations, it will be necessary to wait to know the position of the new president of the United States. And it is still too early to know what he will do, although among his future staff there are several Cuban-Americans with anti-Castro pedigrees. Negotiations with Cuba will be in the hands of Jason Greenblatt, a Jewish lawyer from New York.