Wilfredo Cancio Isla (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — In an attempt to curb the alarming increase in illegal Cuban immigration, US authorities announced on Monday that immigration policy and coastguard operations in the Strait of Florida remain unchanged and insisted that only Congress is empowered to alter existing laws applicable to Cuban refugees.
The government announcement was made through a communiqué issued by the Coastguard Service, following an unusual increase in illegal immigration attempts by Cubans during the second half of December and first days of January, prompted by the President Barack Obama’s announcement that relations with Havana were being normalized.
A total of 890 Cubans have been intercepted in the Strait of Florida and areas of the Caribbean – or have managed to reach US coasts – since the beginning of October, 2014. Of these, 577 did so during the month of December and the first days of January this year, part of an escalade in illegal immigration attempts that has sounded off the alarm in Washington and within the Cuban community in Miami.
Post December 17th Wave
A total of 421 Cubans have been captured in the high seas since Obama’s announcement.
“The administration’s recent announcement regarding Cuba does not affect immigration policies including the wet foot/dry foot provision or the Cuban Adjustment Act, which only Congress can change,” the communiqué obtained by CafeFuerte stated.
The announcement insisted that Coast Guard Service operations in the Strait of Florida and Gulf of Mexico remain unchanged and added that operatives are aggressively active in the area to discourage dangerous and potentially deadly voyages from the island.
“Individuals must have a visa or other permission to travel to the States and anyone located at sea will be returned to Cuba in accordance with immigration laws,” the communiqué added.
This is the second warning issued by the Coast Guard Service since President Obama announced a policy change vis-a-vis the island, generating expectations and rumors in Cuba regarding an end to the migratory benefits enjoyed by Cuban citizens through the CAA established in 1966.
On December 18th, a mere 24 hours after Obama’s speech, the US Coast Guard Service was forced to issue its first communiqué and announce that its operations remained unchanged, strongly discouraging attempts by Cuban migrants to reach US soil by sea.
The increase in illegal immigration attempts by Cubans appears to be impelled by baseless claims that the newly-appointed members of the US Congress, with a Republican majority in both chambers as of January 5, will dismantle the CAA and other administrative decrees that favor Cuban refugees.
Figures for December are highly suggestive: 481 Cubans have taken to the sea in 37 different voyages, an increase of 117 % with respect to the same period in 2013. In only five days this January, 96 Cubans have been intercepted in the Strait of Florida by US authorities.
The stampede of Cubans attempting to reach the United States by sea has already resulted in tragedy this year. A 50-year-old Cuban named Manuel Marino drowned this Saturday when the raft he was on capsized off the coasts of the Cayman Islands. Three other Cubans were on the raft.
The survivors were identified as 27-year-old Dailer Perez Arresoitia, 37-year-old Diosul Alarcon Barrero and 33-year-old Lety Sanchez Fonseca, all from the town of Santa Cruz del Sur, Camaguey. They managed to survive by holding on to inner tubes and the aid of local surfers.
The three Cubans were arrested by Cayman Island authorities and were repatriated to Cuba.
During 2014, the number of Cubans captured in the Strait of Florida went up to 2,059, the highest figure reported since 2008. In the recently concluded fiscal year, voyages on makeshift vessels and contraband operations involved a total of 3,722 Cubans who were attempting to reach the coasts of Florida (including those involved in voyages to the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Virgin Island and other destinations in the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean.
A massive and silent exodus of Cubans is also taking place through the Mexican and Canadian borders. In 2014, some 16,247 reached the United States through the Mexican border alone.