Adventures and misadventures of Cuban migrants on their journey to the U.S.

According to reports by the United States Border Patrol, from October of last year to February of this year, almost 47,000 immigrants of Cuban origin were detained at the southern border of the U.S. Although barely representing 4.7% of the people detained during that period, for Cuba it shows a trend equated with the moments of greatest volume of irregular migration.

Cubans probably enjoy the best possible immigration agreement with the United States. With a view to avoiding uncontrolled migratory flows, such as the one that took place during the so-called ‘rafter crisis’ in 1994, the government of the U.S. granted a minimum of 20,000 visas annually to Cuban migrants. This agreement was applied rigorously until Donald Trump closed the consulate in Cuba, using the mysterious “sonic attacks” as an excuse and claiming that U.S. government officials were being harmed by them in Havana in 2017.

In reality, it was one more of the many measures taken by the U.S. to “apply pressure on the Cuban pressure cooker.” As a result, for reasons that have nothing to do with the immigration policy of the two countries, Cuban migrants stopped enjoying an agreement that had had a significant impact on reducing irregular emigration despite the fact that the United States never totally abandoned the practice of receiving them and giving them preferential treatment.

In a situation that was aggravated by the pandemic and the strengthening of the U.S. blockade against Cuba, it could be said that from enjoying the most privileged status of Third World immigrants, the Cuban migrant has become one of the least favored by U.S. policy. Unsurprisingly, it led to a skyrocketing effect on irregular migration — especially through third countries.

Now, to obtain visas, Cubans must travel to Guyana with no guarantee of obtaining them. Temporary entry visas, rarely granted, must be applied for in a third country and even those with other citizenships, such as from Spain, cannot opt ​​for the ESTA [Electronic System for Travel Authorization] visa, a preferential system that is granted to some countries. Paradoxically, Cubans retain certain privileges only when they manage to overcome the enormous obstacles and dangers of irregular migration and present themselves at the U.S. borders.

Under migratory agreements, they are generally returned to Cuba when they are captured at sea, but receive preferential treatment when they arrive on land at the borders, especially that of Mexico, despite the fact that, in 2017, President Barack Obama canceled the dry foot/wet foot policy, which exempted from deportation those who managed to reach U.S. territory. The ‘credible fear’ argument works to grant them asylum and the legalization of their immigration status, thanks to the 1966 Adjustment Act.

This implies that migrants need to arrive in Mexico, either legally or by joining caravans that cross the region, risking becoming victims of human trafficking. The most cynical thing about current U.S. policy is that at the same time that they receive Cubans with privileges, they try by all means to prevent them from reaching the border, which increases the risk of the adventure.

This has given rise to the unusual procedure of requiring “transit visas” to make stops in certain countries, even if they never legally enter their territory. Such a requirement is not justified for reasons of immigration control, since it applies only to Cubans, and it is not in the interest of the airlines’ either, since their procedures are violated and they lose potential clients. Only U.S. pressure can explain behavior of this type.

The objective is to close all doors to Cuban migration and thus increase domestic tensions in Cuba. As a result, the Cuban migrant ceases to be treated as a subject of migratory policies, as is the case everywhere, to become a hostage of the subversive strategies of the United States against Cuba.

In reality, it is not something new, but still very serious that the policies of Tump and Biden have involved an ostensible setback of the agreements reached, ignoring the conveniences it affords both countries, as evidenced by the fact that they have survived for almost two decades dodging other moments of extreme tension.

The Cuban government has little control over these events. Experience shows that trying to stop migratory flows through coercive measures does more harm than good. On the other hand, these are phenomena involving multiple actors, including several states acting by virtue of their sovereign rights, no matter how questionable their attitudes.

However, this does not exempt the Cuban government from the obligation to protect and assist its nationals. On other occasions it has intervened in favor of irregular migrants in a situation of vulnerability in the Mesoamerican area, but it is true that on other occasions migrants have been deprived of the required attention. It is therefore worth highlighting the intensity of the diplomatic activity carried out at this time and a greater disclosure of official positions, an important step in improving migration policy and relations with its emigrants — of strategic importance for Cuba, apart from what the policy of the United States might be.