Tag Archives: Emigration

HOW CUBA IS, AND ISN’T, CHANGING, ONE YEAR AFTER THE THAW WITH THE U.S.

By Nick Miroff December 15 at 7:00 AM

HAVANA — No event in decades shook up Cuba like the announcement last Dec. 17 by presidents Obama and Raul Castro that their countries would begin normalizing long-broken relations. In the 12 months since, Cubans have witnessed scenes few expected to see in their lifetimes, or at least in the lifetimes of Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul.

A U.S. flag snaps once again in the sea breeze outside a U.S. embassy in Havana. Raul Castro and Obama held talks on the sidelines of a hemispheric summit in April. So many U.S. politicians, corporate executives, foreign leaders, tourists and celebrities have visited, that an island long known for isolation suddenly feels it is at the center of the world.

The psychological impact of these events, however, has far outpaced any physical one. So far, U.S. businesses have only completed a handful of new deals. Cuba remains the only closed, one-party state in the Americas, and if anything, normalization with Washington has left communist authorities increasingly anxious about dissent and more determined to stifle it.

Cuba is still very much the same country it was a year ago. And yet, not quite.

“For a lot of my friends who are university graduates, the news was positive, and we saw it as the beginning of a long and complicated process,” said Lenier Gonzalez, a founder of the group Cuba Posible, which advocates gradual reform. But for more of the population, “it produced an unrealistic expectation

That third group of Cubans heard in Obama’s words last Dec. 17 a cue to flee. They fear normalization will put an end to the immigration rules that essentially bestow residency and welfare benefits on any Cuban who reaches U.S. soil.

As many as 70,000 Cubans have left for the United States in the past year, in what appears to be the largest wave of migration from the island in decades.

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The Legal Emigration Route to the USA: Early Morning Queue outside the American Embassy, April 2015

The changes of the past year have set Cuban authorities on edge too, bringing an escalating crackdown on public protest or opposition activity.

Dozens, even hundreds of activists are detained or arrested each Sunday, when the Ladies in White dissident group attempts to march in Havana and another group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, stages a weekly mobilization in Santiago, the island’s second- largest city.

Though the government generally no longer locks up dissidents for long prison terms, it increasingly relies on short-term arrests to block protests by activists it considers “mercenaries” at the service of foreign interests.

The illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission of Human Rights and Reconciliation tallied 1,447 political arrests or arbitrary detentions in November, the highest monthly total in years.

In an interview published Monday, Obama said that the United States would continue to support Cuban rights activists and that he was considering a trip to the island — but on the condition that he can meet with dissidents. “If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” he said, in an interview with Yahoo News.

“Our original theory on this was not that we were going to see immediate changes or loosening of the control of the Castro regime, but rather that over time you’d lay the predicates for substantial transformation,” said Obama, whom surveys show is a widely popular figure on the island.

Cuban officials this year have tried to push back at public perceptions that Obama is a friend and the United States is no longer a threat or a foe. Relations will not be truly normal, they insist, until Washington lifts its trade embargo, closes the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay and makes reparations for a half-century of economic sanctions and other grievances.

Yet the rivalry has morphed from hostile confrontation into something more sportsmanlike: a low-intensity contest to set the pace of change, with Washington trying to move faster and Cuba preferring slow, cautious steps.

As Rafael Hernandez, editor of the Cuban journal Temas, put it: “We’ve traded a boxing ring for a chess board.”

For all its revolutionary slogans and lore, Cuba can be a profoundly conservative place, in the strict definition of the term. It is a country where the television programming, food rations and newspaper editorials seem to remain the same, year in, year out. This drives young Cubans crazy. But the continuity is a comfort to some, not least the communist party elders who have ruled for 57 years.

Raul Castro, 84, has pledged to step down in February 2018. Obama has 13 months left in office. That leaves a narrow window for the two men who charted the normalization course to see it through.

Rarely does a week go by without some new chess move. The Obama administration in May took Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, paving the way for the countries to formally reestablish diplomatic ties in July.

The two countries have signed new agreements on environmental cooperation. They’ve enhanced anti-narcotics enforcement. Direct mail service is set to resume on a trial basis. U.S. and Cuban officials have even started discussing their oldest grievances, opening negotiations to settle billions in U.S. property claims and Cuban counter-claims.

The U.S. secretaries of agriculture, commerce and state have all visited Havana in the past year, along with dozens of U.S. lawmakers, adding up to the highest-level government contacts in decades.

A U.S. tourism tsunami still seems to be building. U.S. travel to Cuba increased by 40 percent since last December, according to industry estimates. Overall tourism to Cuba increased nearly 20 percent, bringing billions in additional revenue for the government.

“Our booking activity has been off the charts,” said Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, the largest U.S.-based provider of the licensed “people-to-people” travel permitted under U.S. law.

Most of the U.S. travelers have come to Havana, where a shortage of hotel beds has kicked off a scramble among Cubans and their foreign business partners to buy, renovate and rent properties. Each city block seems to have at least one crew of contractors patching cracks and applying paint.

A deal to reestablish regular commercial flights between the two countries is said to be imminent, with United, JetBlue, American Airlines and other U.S. carriers pledging to begin service as soon as they’re cleared by the two governments.

Cuba established a direct phone link with a U.S. company, IDT, and a roaming agreement with Sprint. It has set up nearly 50 outdoor WiFi hotspots at parks and boulevards across the island, where Cubans gather round-the-clock to chat with friends and relatives overseas.

But the initial Cuba excitement among U.S. companies has been replaced by something more “sober” a year later, said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a group lobbying to lift the embargo.

Williams said he knew of at least two-dozen U.S. companies that had submitted formal business proposals to the Castro government, aimed at taking advantage of more flexible rules. “I would imagine it’s probably in the hundreds,” he said.

The companies want to lease office space, build warehouses, dock cruise ships and ferries. Not one has gotten a green light so far, he said.

“Frankly I think the Cubans have been overwhelmed with a surge in interest and the decentralized nature of how that interest is coming to them, with companies calling them up, consultants coming to them, and not a lot of clarity about how to make a deal,” said Williams. “The non-responsiveness has slowed things down.”

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A NEW CRISIS OF CUBAN MIGRATION

By WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE, New York Times,  DEC. 4, 2015

Original Essay Here: Cuban Migration

zzCuban migrants remonstrated with a Costa Rican immigration official at the border with Nicaragua, in Penas Blancas, Costa Rica, on Monday.

 zzzNicaraguan soldiers and policemen stand guard in Penas Blancas, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, on the border with Nicaragua on November 16, 2015

 Washington — A standoff in recent weeks that has trapped hundreds of Cuban migrants at Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua as they try to reach the United States is a graphic demonstration that Washington’s migration policy toward Cuba is no longer sustainable. Left unchanged it could produce a crisis on the scale of the 1980 Mariel boatlift or the 1994 balsero (rafters) crisis — if one hasn’t begun already.

Current policy, based on migration accords negotiated with  Havana in 1994 and 1995, commits the United States to accepting at least 20,000 legal Cuban immigrants annually, and to returning to Cuba migrants intercepted at sea as they try to enter the United States illegally.

Unilaterally, the United States also adopted a “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which allows Cubans who arrive in the United States (“dry foot”) to remain in the country under a special status called parole and, a year later, become eligible under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 to seek permanent residency. No other foreign nationality enjoys such privileged status.

The Cuban government has long argued that these policies encourage illegal migration and human trafficking. Still, the problem of Cubans coming to the United States illegally has been relatively minor until recently.

In the years since the migration agreements were signed, about 4,000 Cubans annually have eluded the United States Coast Guard, reached Florida beaches, and claimed “dry foot” status. Some 2,000 to 3,000 others have been intercepted at sea (“wet foot”) each year and returned to Cuba. Because crossing the Florida Strait on rickety rafts or dilapidated boats is so dangerous, and the chances of being caught by the Coast Guard are high, the flow of illegal migrants remained manageable.

It is manageable no longer. The number of migrants has surged since last December, when President Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro, announced their intention to normalize relations. Would-be immigrants fear that reconciliation foreshadows repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act, prompting Cuban migrants to act now lest they miss their chance.

With that in mind, Cubans have found an air-land route to the United States on which everyone can be a “dry foot” who can expect entry. In the past 12 months, more than 45,000 Cubans entered the United States from Mexico — without having to risk crossing a perilous desert as Mexicans and Central Americans do.  The new route is possible because in 2013, the Cuban government abolished its requirement that citizens obtain government permission to travel abroad. Today, most Cubans can travel to any country that will grant them a visa. Ecuador even admitted them without one until last Tuesday, and Guyana still does.

As a result, would-be migrants have been flying to Ecuador to begin a long, surreptitious trek north, without visas, through Colombia, Central America and Mexico. At the Texas border, they simply declare their nationality and are admitted under the “dry foot” policy.  Hiring “coyotes,” as smugglers of migrants are called, to guide the trek is expensive, but many Cubans have family members in the United States willing to pay. Recently, Cubans armed with cellphones have been crowdsourcing their own smuggling routes by following advice on social media from those who have gone before them.

The current crisis in Central America was triggered on Nov. 10 when Costa Rican authorities broke up a smuggling operation, leaving 1,600 Cubans stranded. When Costa Rica tried to send them north, Nicaragua closed the border. As more Cubans arrive daily, the number stuck there has reached 4,000, with no end in sight.

At a recent meeting of diplomats from the region, Costa Rica proposed creating a “humanitarian corridor” that would allow Cubans free passage to the United States border. Nicaragua rejected the proposal, but even the suggestion of such a plan should be a red flag for Washington. Latin Americans are getting tired of enforcing a United States immigration policy toward Cubans that isn’t working and discriminates against their own citizens. The contrast between Washington’s privileged treatment of Cuban migrants and its coldness toward Central Americans, including children fleeing criminal violence, is indefensible.

18CUBA-slide-8QJE-superJumboEarly morning que for migration visas, American Embassy, February 2015.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration has repeatedly declared that it has no intention of changing current migration policy, for fear that any hint of change will touch off a stampede. United States diplomats reaffirmed that position at a meeting with their Cuban counterparts last Monday. The meeting produced no new thinking about how to resolve the crisis.

There is a solution to this conundrum. If Cuban migrants trying to enter the United States by land were treated the same as those intercepted at sea and returned to Cuba, the incentive to make the long, dangerous passage north would be drastically reduced.

This would not require amending the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows for the adjustment of status only for Cubans who have been admitted or paroled into the United States. It would require only changing the “dry foot” policy of admitting on parole anyone who sets foot on United States territory. That policy is a matter of executive discretion. To avoid a last-minute exodus from Cuba, it could be rescinded by the attorney general without prior notice.

An end to the “wet foot/dry foot” distinction should be accompanied by a significant increase in the number of Cubans admitted legally, so that those who want to immigrate to the United States have more opportunities to do so safely.

But to do nothing is to face a slow-motion migration crisis that will be interminable. Cuba will not reimpose travel limits on its citizens, and Latin America will not cooperate indefinitely by blocking Cubans’ transit when Washington’s policy is to let in all Cubans who arrive — and keep other Latin Americans out.  For Washington to refuse to change a policy when new circumstances have rendered it utterly ineffective makes about as much sense as King Canute trying to hold back the tide.

zWilliam M. LeoGrande is a professor of government at American University in Washington, D.C., and a co-author with Peter Kornbluh of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.”

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CUBA DETENTE CREATES MIGRANT CRISIS IN MEXICO

Financial Times, 9 November 2015

Amy Stillman in Tapachula, southern Mexico

Original article here: Cuban Migrants in Mexico

As Cuban president Raúl Castro met Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Friday to strengthen trade ties and smooth over past tensions, a new political problem was mounting in the south with the huge influx of Cubans flowing across Mexico’s border.

Almost 6,500 Cubans arrived in Mexico en route to the US in the first nine months of the year, more than five times as many as a year earlier, according to official statistics. And the numbers have continued to surge. Mexico’s national migration institute, INM, said that more than 8,000 Cubans have been processed in Mexico so far this year.

The national human rights commission, CNDH, noted that over a thousand Cubans turned up at the Tapachula migratory station in the space of one week in October, overwhelming migration officials’ capacity to attend them.

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Many Cubans have spent days sleeping rough outside the Tapachula station awaiting processing. Local human rights groups have begun to open their doors to them amid the growing humanitarian crisis.

The Cubans are responding to rumours on the island that the US will soon remove their right to automatic asylum upon reaching US soil. The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act deems Cubans fleeing the island to be political refugees, a product of the Cold War that sits uncomfortably with the recent restoration of diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington.  The law has already been amended once before, when the US implemented the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy in 1995, enabling Cuban migrants caught at sea to be repatriated.

The Cubans, meanwhile, are sceptical that the gradual lifting of economic restrictions will improve their lives. Political freedom and economic opportunity, they say, are still lacking on the island.

“The [trade] opening is good, but it is not enough to change the culture in Cuba,” said López, 50, who had arrived at the Tapachula migration office with his wife and two grown children after a gruelling, month-long slog through South and Central America.

López, who asked to be identified with a pseudonym, had earned the equivalent of $25 a month working for the government in Havana. Fearing that the US law might change, in September he and his family made plans to join their relatives in North Dakota, selling their car and scrounging all of their savings to afford the trip, which cost $2,500 per person.  Like so many Cubans, López hopes to find better-paid work in the US. “America is a different democracy, it is a different opportunity,” he said.

While trade barriers in Cuba are slowly being chipped away, the US has yet to lift its 53-year old economic embargo on the Communist-run country, and political reform will take time.  Moreover, few people expect Cuba to become a market economy without going through some economic turbulence.

“Cubans understand that there is a good chance things will get worse before they get better,” said Duncan Wood of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.  “Changing the economic culture of the country is going to be enormously disruptive, so I am not surprised that the number of Cuban migrants in Mexico is up.”

The lifting of travel restrictions in Cuba in 2013 has facilitated this process, with many countries along the route now providing Cubans with transit visas.

Also, increasing numbers of Cubans are choosing the circuitous trek across eight borders because it is less risky and cheaper than sailing directly to Miami. Cubans in Mexico told the Financial Times that the journey overland is half the price of the perilous sea voyage along the Florida Straits, which reaches $10,000.

Mexican immigration officials warn that the numbers arriving across the border continue to climb. Mario Madrazo Ubach, director-general of immigration control at the INM, said: “If 300 people show up in the same moment at the same station, what can we do, build a bigger station?”

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U.S. WELFARE FLOWS TO CUBA

“They’re taking benefits from the American taxpayer to subsidize their life in another country.”

Original Article Here: U.S. Welfare Flows to Cuba

By Sally Kestin, Megan O’Matz and John Maines with Tracey Eaton in Cuba

Orlando Sun-Sentinel,  October 2, 2015

Read  previous investigations into special treatment for Cuban immigrants

Cuban immigrants are cashing in on U.S. welfare and returning to the island, making a mockery of the decades-old premise that they are refugees fleeing persecution at home.  Some stay for months at a time — and the U.S. government keeps paying.

Cubans’ unique access to food stamps, disability money and other welfare is meant to help them build new lives in America. Yet these days, it’s helping some finance their lives on the communist island.

America’s open-ended generosity has grown into an entitlement that exceeds $680 million a year and is exploited with ease. No agency tracks the scope of the abuse, but a Sun Sentinel investigation found evidence suggesting it is widespread.

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Cuban arrivals in Florida

Unlike most immigrants to the U.S., Cubans are presumed to be refugees and can access special assistance. Since 2003, more than 329,000 Cuban immigrants arrived in Florida and were eligible for this aid, which includes cash, medical care and job training. They now make up nine out of 10 foreigners getting refugee services in Florida.

Fed-up Floridians are reporting their neighbors and relatives for accepting government aid while shuttling back and forth to the island, selling goods in Cuba, and leaving their benefit cards in the U.S. for others to use while they are away.

Some don’t come back at all. The U.S. has continued to deposit welfare checks for as long as two years after the recipients moved back to Cuba for good, federal officials confirmed.

Regulations prohibit welfare recipients from collecting or using U.S. benefits in another country. But on the streets of Hialeah, the first stop for many new arrivals, shopkeepers like Miguel Veloso hear about it all the time.

Veloso, a barber who has been in the U.S. three years, said recent immigrants on welfare talk of spending considerable time in Cuba — six months there, two months here. “You come and go before benefits expire,” he said.

State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah hears it too, from constituents in his heavily Cuban-American district, who tell of flaunting their aid money on visits to the island. The money, he said, “is definitely not to be used … to go have a great old time back in the country that was supposed to be oppressing you.”

The sense of entitlement is so ingrained that Cubans routinely complained to their local congressman about the challenge of accessing U.S. aid — from Cuba.

“A family member would come into our office and say another family member isn’t receiving his benefits,” said Javier Correoso, aide to former Miami Rep. David Rivera. “We’d say, ‘Where is he?’ They’d say, ‘He’s in Cuba and isn’t coming back for six months.’”

The money “is definitely not to be used … to go have a great old time back in the country that was supposed to be oppressing you.”

 “They’re taking benefits from the American taxpayer to subsidize their life in another country.’”

One woman told Miami immigration attorney Grisel Ybarra that her grandmother and two great aunts came to Florida, got approved for benefits, opened bank accounts and returned to Cuba. Month after month, the woman cashed their government checks — about $2,400 each time — sending half to the women in Cuba and keeping the rest.   When a welfare agency questioned the elderly ladies’ whereabouts this summer, the woman turned to Ybarra, a Cuban American. She told Ybarra her grandmother refused to come back, saying: “With the money you sent me, I bought a home and am really happy in Cuba.”

Cubans on the island, Ybarra said, have a name for U.S. aid.  They call it “la ayuda.” The help.

Special status abused

Increasing openness and travel between the two countries have made the welfare entitlement harder to justify and easier to abuse. But few charges have been brought, and Congress and the Obama Administration have failed to address the problem even as the United States moves toward détente with Cuba.

Cubans fuel increase in Florida costs

The U.S. opens its borders and wallets to Cubans like no other immigrant group. The number of Cubans coming to the U.S. is increasing, along with the expense of supporting them. The cost of food stamps, welfare and short-term cash assistance for Cuban immigrants in Florida has increased 23 percent since 2011, compared to five percent for refugees from all other nations.

Adding it up

Florida’s costs are only part of the picture. To calculate the total cost of public assistance for Cuban immigrants, the Sun Sentinel included estimates for federal refugee assistance and welfare for seniors and the disabled. The $682 million total is conservative.*

Cubans’ extraordinary access to U.S. welfare rests on two pillars of special treatment: the ease with which they are admitted to the country, and America’s generosity in granting them public support.

Cubans are allowed into the U.S. even if they arrive without permission and are quickly granted permanent residency under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. They’re assumed to be refugees without having to prove persecution.

They’re immediately eligible for welfare, food stamps, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income or SSI, cash assistance for impoverished seniors and disabled younger people.

Most other immigrants are barred from collecting aid for their first five years. Those here illegally are not eligible at all.

The Sun Sentinel analyzed state and federal data to determine the annual cost of taxpayer support for Cuban immigrants: at least $680 million. In Florida alone, costs for welfare, food stamps and refugee cash have increased 23 percent since 2011, the last year data was available.

Not all Cubans receive government help. Those arriving on visas are ineligible, and some rely on family support. And many who receive aid do so for just a short time until they settle in, as the U.S. intended. Cubans over time have become one of the most successful immigrant groups in America.

“They come to the U.S. to work and make a living for their family,” said Jose Alvarez, a Cuba native and city commissioner in Kissimmee. “I don’t believe that they come thinking the government will support them.”

But some take advantage of the easy money — and then go back and forth to Cuba.

A public housing tenant in Hialeah, who was receiving food stamps and SSI payments for a disabled son, frequently traveled to Cuba to sell food there, records show. She admitted to a city housing investigator in 2012 that she “makes $700 in two months just in the sales to Cuba.”

Another man receiving food stamps admitted to state officials “that he was living in Cuba much of 2015.”

A recent arrival with a chronic illness got Medicaid coverage and turned to attorney David Batchelder of Miami to help him get SSI as well. But the man was “going back and forth to Cuba” so much that Batchelder eventually dropped the case. “It was just another benefit he was applying for.”

Concerns about Cubans exploiting the aid are especially troubling to exiles who came to this country decades ago and built new lives and careers here.  Dr. Noel Fernandez recalls the assistance his family received from friends and the U.S. government when they immigrated 20 years ago, help that enabled him to find work as a landscaper, learn English and complete his medical studies. Now medical director of Citrus Health Network in Hialeah, Fernandez sees Cuban immigrants collecting benefits and going back, including three elderly patients who recently left the U.S. for good.

“They got Medicaid, they got everything, and they returned to Cuba,” he said. “I see people that said they were refugees [from] Cuba and they return the next year.”

State officials have received complaints about Cubans collecting aid while repeatedly going to Cuba or working as mules ferrying cash and goods, a common way of financing travel to the island.

Another way of paying for the trips: cheating. Like other welfare recipients, some Cubans work under the table or put assets in others’ names to appear poor enough to meet the programs’ income limits, according to records and interviews. Some married couples qualify for more money as single people by concealing marriages performed in Cuba, where the U.S. can’t access records.

Florida’s refugee costs by nationality in 2014

The United States accepts refugees from around the world if they can prove persecution at home. Cubans don’t need such proof – they are the only nationality with open-ended access to the U.S. and government benefits.

 “Stop the fraud please!” one person urged in a complaint to the state. Another pleaded with authorities to check airport departure records for a woman suspected of hiding income. “It would show how many times she has traveled to Cuba.”

Florida officials typically dismissed the complaints for lack of information, because names didn’t match their records or because the allegations didn’t involve violations of eligibility rules. Travel abroad is not expressly prohibited, but benefits are supposed to be used for basic necessities within the U.S.

“Our congressional folks should be looking at this,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., a Cuban American. “There could be millions and millions of dollars in fraud going on here.”

Money to Cuba

Accessing benefits from Cuba typically requires a U.S. bank account and a willing relative or friend stateside. Food stamps and welfare are issued monthly through a debit-type card, and SSI payments are deposited into a bank account or onto a MasterCard.

A joint account holder with a PIN number can withdraw the money and wire it to Cuba. Another option: entrust the money to a friend traveling to Cuba.

Roberto Pizano of Tampa, a political prisoner in Cuba for 18 years, said he worked two jobs when he arrived in the U.S. in 1979 and never accepted overnment help. He now sees immigrants “abusing the system.”

“I know people who come to the U.S., apply for SSI and never worked in the USA,” he said. They “move back to Cuba and are living off of the hard-earned taxpayer dollars.”

Roberto Pizano of Tampa, a political prisoner in Cuba for 18 years, said Cubans are signing up for U.S. benefits and moving back to Cuba, “living off of the hard-earned taxpayer dollars.“ Photo by Taimy Alvarez

Federal investigators have found the same scenario in other cases.  A 2012 complaint alleged a 75-year-old woman had moved to Camaguey two years earlier and a relative was withdrawing her SSI money from a bank account and sending it to her. Social Security stopped payments, but not before nearly $16,000 had been deposited into her account.

Another recipient went to Cuba on vacation and stayed, leaving his debit card with a relative. Social Security continued his SSI payments for another six months — $4,000 total — before an anonymous caller reported he had gone back to Cuba.

One woman reportedly moved to Cuba in 2010 and died three years later, while still receiving SSI and food stamps, according to a 2014 tip to Florida welfare fraud investigators. A state official couldn’t find her at her Hialeah home, cut off the food stamps and alerted the federal government.

Former congressman Rivera tried to curb abuses with a bill that would have revoked the legal status of Cubans who returned to the island before they became citizens.

“Public assistance is meant to help Cuban refugees settle in the U.S.,” Mauricio Claver-Carone of Cuba Democracy Advocates testified in a 2012 hearing on the bill. “However, many non-refugee Cubans currently use these benefits, which can average more than $1,000 per month, to immediately travel back to the island, where the average income is $20 per month, and comfortably reside there for months at a time on the taxpayer’s dime.”

Rivera recently told the Sun Sentinel that he interviewed welfare workers, Cubans in Miami and passengers waiting for charter flights to Havana. He said he found overwhelming evidence of benefits money going back, especially after the U.S. eased travel restrictions in 2009.

The back and forth undermines the rationale that Cubans are refugees fleeing an oppressive government, Rivera said. And when they return for visits, they boast of the money that’s available in the U.S., he said. “They all say, ‘It’s great. I got free housing. I got free food. I get my medicine.’ ”

Five Cubans interviewed by the Sun Sentinel in Havana said they were aware of the assistance and knew of Cubans who had gone to America and quickly began sending money back. Two said they believed it was U.S. government aid.

“I don’t think it’s correct, but everyone does it for the well-being of their family,” said one woman, Susana, who declined to give her last name.

Outside welfare offices in Hialeah, the Sun Sentinel found Cuban immigrants who had arrived as recently as three days earlier, applying for benefits. They said family and friends told them about the aid before they left Cuba.

“Back in the ’60s, when you came in, they told you the factory that was hiring,” said Nidia Diaz of Miami, a former bail bondswoman who was born in Cuba. “Now, they tell you the closest Department of Children and Families [office] so you can go and apply.”

Crooks collect in Cuba

Miami bail bondswoman Barbara Pozo said many of her Cuban clients talk openly about living in Cuba and collecting monthly disability checks, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.  “They just come here to pick up the money,” Pozo said. “They pretend they’re disabled. They just pretend they’re crazy.”  SSI payments, for those who cannot work due to mental or physical disabilities, go up to $733 a month for an individual. Most other new immigrants are ineligible until they become U.S. citizens.

Cubans collect, others don’t:

Some Cubans try to build a case for SSI by claiming trauma from their life under an oppressive government or the 90-mile crossing to Florida.  Diaz, the former bondswoman, said she has heard Cuban clients talk about qualifying: “‘Tell them that you have emotional problems. How did you get these problems? Well, trying to get here from Cuba.’”

Antonio Comin collected disability while organizing missions to smuggle Cubans to Florida, including one launched from a house in the Keys, federal prosecutors said. Comin claimed he rented the home to celebrate his birthday — after receiving his government check.

Casimiro Martinez was receiving a monthly check for a mental disability — but his mind was sound enough to launder more than $1 million stolen from Medicare. Martinez was arrested at Miami International Airport after returning from a trip to Cuba.

Outside welfare offices in Hialeah, the Sun Sentinel found Cuban immigrants who had arrived as recently as three days earlier, applying for benefits.

Government disability programs are vulnerable to fraud, particularly SSI, with applicants faking or exaggerating symptoms. Some view SSI as “money waiting to be taken,” said John Webb, a federal prosecutor in Tennessee who has handled fraud cases.

While benefits are supposed to be suspended for recipients who leave the United States for more than 30 days, the government relies on people to self-report those absences, and federal audits have found widespread violations.

The government could significantly reduce abuses by matching international travel records to SSI payments, auditors have recommended since 2003. The Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security are still trying to work out a data sharing agreement — 12 years later.

Jose Caragol, a Hialeah city councilman and Havana native, said aid for Cubans “was meant to assist those who were persecuted and want a new life. The bleeding has to stop.”

 

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U.S.-CUBA NORMALIZATION AND MIGRATION POLICY: CHANGING THE CUBAN ADJUSTMENT ACT

Richard N. Gioioso, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, focusing on Latin American migration to the U.S.

 Huffington Post, June 18, 2015

Original here: Changing the Cuban Adjustment Act

On a plane ride back from Havana in June 2013, I sat next to a passenger, dressed from head-to-toe in white, and we struck up a conversation. He explained to me that he had lived in Florida for the past five years. He had normalized his status in the U.S. through the Cuban Adjustment Act, which granted him a fast track method to legal residency. For the past year or so, he had been traveling back and forth between Miami and Havana every other weekend to see his fiancé as well as to solidify his religious practice with his spiritual guide and finish his initiation into Santería. He, I thought to myself, certainly did not seem to be a Cuban who feared political persecution on the island and therefore deserved asylum in the United States. He seemed more like a transnational migrant.

On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced a policy change that has reinitiated formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, begun to open financial and trade opportunities, and expanded American travel to the island. By normalizing relations with Cuba, he has stirred up emotions among both Cuban and non-Cuban Americans, and the person I met on that plane ride comes into mind. Indeed, the migration status of Cubans who enter the United States as political refugees is one of the many policies that will change and bring consequences to both Cuba and the United States when the cold relations between the two countries finally thaw.

In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower first categorized all Cubans as political refugees. The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, grants all Cubans an exceptional status compared to other nationalities. It grants eligibility to any Cuban who arrives on U.S. soil permanent residence after a parole period of one year and a day.

For most Cubans, however, leaving Cuba is more about finding economic freedom than about escaping direct political persecution. In fact, many, if not most, Cubans who have left the island since 1991 resemble economic migrants rather than political refugees. The Cuban government is still an authoritarian one-party system under the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC). Nonetheless, politics seem to have become at least minimally more inclusionary. The government has relaxed norms for individuals to strictly align with and participate in the PCC. Some non-aligned individuals have been elected to representative positions in government. At the same time, what has surfaced in some recent research, is that perception of and participation in explicit political behavior has changed and continues to change, especially for Cuban youth, such that other concerns and obligations outweigh the expressly political ones. In short, their primary concern revolves around gaining more economic opportunities as opposed to demanding explicit political freedom.

The expanding tourism sector currently provides the bulk of the economic opportunities on the island. Those who are linked to this sector, do, in fact, seem to be prospering. The many new bars and restaurants in Havana, especially, but not exclusively, in the more affluent El Vedado neighborhood and touristy la Habana Vieja, are clear signs of a “middle class” of Cubans who live relatively comfortably on the island.

For many others, migration is the solution to increased economic opportunities. Florida’s proximity and the Cuban Adjustment Act are two factors that motivate Cubans to leave. Some leave the island legally with some variety of visa, then declare their asylum status once they arrive in the U.S. Many other Cubans, however, leave the island through irregular manners and arrive at the U.S. border, over air, land or sea, declare their “Cuban” status to the authorities and begin the parole process on the spot.

The irregular migrant sneaks off the Cuban shoreline at night through some manner of sea vessel, usually in small groups or through a human smuggler. Cuban and U.S. authorities have recognized that irregular departures from Cuba are often treacherous and hazardous and have tightened control and cooperation around unauthorized exits and entries. There are also serious concerns over the notable presence of Cubans who opt to travel first to Mexico, and from there make their way to the U.S.-Mexico border to enter. Ultimately, the incentives to leave Cuba for the U.S. are clear and convincing, but no longer reflect the conditions that led to the Cuban Adjustment Act. This raises doubts about the Act’s continued validity.

The Obama Administration has announced that it has no intention of changing the migratory status of Cubans in the short term. An active “thaw” in the U.S.-Cuba relationship will lead U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to advocate for ending the trade embargo and bring migration policy to Cuba in line with other countries. Furthermore, efforts to make explicit changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act are currently under way. In short, the realities of normalization will eventually dismantle the law as it currently stands, and Cubans will cease to be an exceptional group of political refugees.

Fears over the elimination of Cubans’ exceptional refugee status and uncertainty over when that will happen will motivate many to contemplate and attempt an exit from Cuba for the United States in irregular ways. Since Obama’s announcement, reports have shown an uptick of Cubans caught at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In the intermediate to long term, ending the Cuban Adjustment Act will hopefully contribute to the type of political change the U.S. government and most Cuban citizens on the island ultimately desire. For decades, presidential administrations, lawmakers, and anti-Castrista activists have tried to ferment discontent among Cubans using a variety of strategies to try and pressure the Castro administration to reform. Past and present tactics include broadcasts by Radio and Televisión Martí, USAID sponsored programs – including the recently uncovered Zunzuneo [Cuban Twitter] scandal, as well as a people-to-people exchange program established in 1999 to enhance cross-cultural relations between Americans and Cubans.

A flaw to the logic of the Cuban Adjustment Act, however, is precisely the wholesale categorization of all Cuban citizens as political refugees, because, if indeed any pressure for change would build through the tactics mentioned above, it could be relieved when Cubans leave Cuba to the United States for good. By removing the Cuban Adjustment Act and no longer granting all Cubans the status of political refugees, the U.S. immigration authorities will instead issue more and more visas – especially for tourism and educational purposes – and increase the amount and quality of exchange between the countries. Cuban travelers, who, for the most part, will no longer be able seek political asylum, will have to return to Cuba to live, with greater demands for change within Cuba having experienced U.S. society.

Nobody wants to lose a special privilege. However, American foreign and migration policy should reflect Cuba in 2015, not in 1960. Changing migration policy to Cubans recognizes those who are truly politically persecuted or fear persecution to become refugees or seek asylum. It will expand the currently small class of Cuban travelers to the U.S. who, as members of and stakeholders in the Cuban polity, will return the island with greater motivation, know-how, and support for more political and economic change. A new official U.S. migration policy for Cubans will be a fresh approach to stimulating the political and economic reforms through openness and exchange that five and a half decades of isolation have failed to achieve.

24327_1371008365655_1545135432_919317_733453_n 24327_1371008405656_1545135432_919318_8061963_n 24327_1371008445657_1545135432_919319_1805493_n balseros18 CUBAN MIGRANTS (FOR RELEASE)

 

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NORMALIZATION OF RELATIONS WITH CUBA MAY PORTEND CHANGES TO U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY

January 13, 2015 Policy Beat

 Original here: US :Cuba Immigration policy

By Marc R. Rosenblum and Faye Hipsman

 The historic December 2014 agreement by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba may herald revisions to immigration policy and create changes that affect the future migration of Cubans to the United States. The decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with the island nation, severed more than half a century ago after the Cuban revolution in which Fidel Castro seized power and established a socialist government, will prompt a series of sweeping changes. The United States will reopen an embassy in Havana; greatly relax restrictions on trade, travel, remittances, and financial transactions; and re-evaluate Cuba’s decades-old designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The two countries have also agreed to greater cooperation on areas such as counter-narcotics, environmental protection, and human trafficking. Despite the long estrangement, the United States and Cuba have cooperated on migration issues for decades and have agreed to do so in the future. While the United States has stated that its immigration policy toward Cuba—which affords Cubans uniquely favorable treatment—will for now remain unaffected, improved overall relations will make today’s immigration arrangements difficult to sustain.

Currently, Cubans who arrive in the United States, even without proper authorization, are granted entry and benefit from a fast-track process that allows them legal permanent resident (LPR) status after one year in the country. This unique policy, based on a presumption that all Cuban emigrants are political refugees in need of protection, may need revision now that a détente is at hand. As the two countries improve relations and open their travel channels, policies that automatically welcome Cubans—including illegal entrants and visa overstayers—and accelerate their access to a green card may need to be revisited.

A Cold War mentality has dominated the U.S. approach to its small southern neighbor since the Cuban revolution in 1959, focused chiefly on isolating the country through economic sanctions in opposition to Cuba’s socialist model. The United States has also cited major human-rights concerns for maintaining a trade embargo and implementing tough travel and financial restrictions. In his December announcement, President Obama called this approach outdated, saying that five decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba had failed to achieve the objectives of promoting democracy, growth, and stability there.

The U.S.-Cuba Migration Relationship

Fraught political relations between the two countries, combined with their geographic proximity, have afforded Cuba a place that is sui generis in U.S. immigration law and policy. On the one hand, the United States has offered generous refuge to Cubans fleeing communism; on the other, it has discouraged illegal and dangerous boat migration from Cuba, which has occurred in large waves several times in recent decades.

The population of Cuban immigrants in the United States surged after the revolution, rising from under 71,000 in 1950 to 163,000 by 1960. In the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the Fulgencio Batista regime by Castro-led revolutionaries, many wealthy Cubans and other opponents of the Marxist forces fled, particularly as Castro began nationalizing private property. Under Operation Pedro Pan, organized by religious organizations in Miami with the support of the U.S. government, approximately 14,000 unaccompanied children whose parents opposed the Castro regime were flown to the United States between 1960 and 1962. In September 1965, the first Cuban “boatlift” began when the Cuban government announced that people were free to leave for the United States from the port of Camarioca. When thousands sought to take advantage of the opportunity, many in unsafe vessels, the United States and Cuba reached an agreement to instead allow Cubans to fly to Miami on chartered “Freedom Flights;” about 300,000 Cubans arrived this way between 1965 and 1973.

The cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba is the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), which Congress passed to accommodate these flows after amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in 1965 limited the number of Cubans (and other Western Hemisphere immigrants) who could receive visas. Under CAA, all Cubans who arrive in the United States are presumed to be political refugees, and are eligible to become legal permanent residents (LPRs or green card holders) after one year, assuming they are otherwise admissible. Two decades later, when Congress passed the 1980 Refugee Act establishing the current U.S. refugee and asylum system, the CAA provisions were left in place. Under the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, the CAA will sunset once Cuba becomes a democracy.

Following termination of the Freedom Flight program, most Cubans seeking to enter the United States have traveled by sea, and the attempts of hundreds of thousands of Cubans to make the perilous journey across the Straits of Florida have played a large role in shaping U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba. In 1980, maritime departures surged dramatically during the Mariel boatlift, when Fidel Castro opened the Cuban port of Mariel, allowing anyone to depart the country—including several thousand criminals and mentally disabled individuals. In the six months the port remained open, 125,000 Cubans (along with 25,000 Haitians who joined the flotilla) arrived in South Florida. Boat migration again surged in the mid-1990s. U.S. Coast Guard interdictions of Cubans jumped from 2,882 in fiscal year (FY) 1993 to 38,560 in FY 1994.

The 1994 surge prompted a pair of far-reaching migration agreements between Cuba and the United States in 1994 and 1995. Before then, Cuban migrants interdicted at sea by the Coast Guard were admitted to the United States, a practice widely criticized for encouraging more Cubans to attempt the risky journey. Under the 1994 agreement, Cuba agreed to discourage boat departures, while the United States agreed to grant admission to at least 20,000 Cuban nationals annually and to place intercepted Cubans in safe havens to be considered for asylum. Under the 1995 agreement, the United States granted parole status to the roughly 30,000 Cubans awaiting an asylum determination, and changed its policy to returning future migrants interdicted at sea directly to Cuba. Cubans who expressed a fear of persecution upon return and were determined to meet the refugee definition would no longer be eligible for asylum in the United States, but resettled in third countries.

Combined with the CAA, the 1994 and 1995 migration accords set forth the current “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy. Cubans intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba, where the government has pledged not to retaliate against them. Those who successfully reach the United States are permitted to stay, and become eligible to apply for a green card after a year.

Furthermore, to meet the 20,000 admission floor negotiated in the 1994 accords, the United States instituted the Special Cuban Migration Lottery. The lottery, held in 1994, 1996, and 1998, allowed Cuban nationals between the ages of 18 and 55 to register for admission to the United States, provided they possess two of the three following characteristics: a secondary school or higher education, three years of work experience, or a relative residing in the Unites States. Up to 20,000 lottery winners per year (depending on the number of Cubans admitted through regular visa processing) are granted parole status, and may bring their spouse and children. With 541,000 Cubans entering the lottery between 1994 and 1998, Cubans selected in 1998 continue to be paroled into the United States today.

As a result of these policies, and in spite of the hostile relations between the two countries, Cubans represent one of the ten largest foreign-born groups in the United States, with an estimated 1.1 million immigrants (2.7 percent of the foreign-born population). Collectively, Cuban immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants represented a diaspora of 2.1 million in 2011. Cuba also ranks highly as a sending country for new green-card holders, which have numbered in the 30,000s in each of the past five years (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Annual Number of Cubans Gaining LPR Status, 1990-2013

AAASource: Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Immigration Statistics, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2000-2013 (Washington, DC: DHS, Office of Immigration Statistics, various years), www.dhs.gov/yearbook-immigration-statistics.

Loosening Travel Restrictions

Travel between Cuba and the United States has been tightly controlled for much of the last half-century. Americans are only permitted to travel to Cuba for certain authorized purposes, such as educational, religious, humanitarian, or journalism trips. In 2013, Cuba changed a long-standing policy requiring its citizens to obtain an exit permit and letter of invitation from a country abroad in order to travel internationally, even temporarily. Most Cuban nationals now only need a valid passport and visa to depart, although certain skilled workers are excluded from the loosened rules. In response to Cuba’s policy change, the State Department extended the validity of B-2 tourist visas issued to Cubans from six months (single-entry) to five years with multiple entries permitted. Between 2012 and 2013, nonimmigrant visas issued to Cubans jumped 82 percent, from 20,200 to 36,787.

Future Implications

Cuba receives unique treatment under U.S. immigration law. No other nationality is given a blanket right to green-card eligibility, no other country has a floor below which visas may not fall, and no other group of immigrants is guaranteed admission to the United States if they appear at or between ports of entry. In effect, Cuban nationals are exempt from deportation and immigration enforcement policies affecting all other noncitizens. Furthermore, because Cuban arrivals are treated similarly to refugees, many are eligible for federal assistance and means-tested benefits from which most noncitizens are barred.

As the Obama administration and Cuba take steps to normalize their relations, trade and travel between the two countries is only expected to increase. While Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has stated that current immigration policy and law concerning Cuba will remain “for the time being,” expanded travel and trade raise questions about the viability of the wet-foot, dry-foot policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act: As visa issuance to Cuban nationals increases, will a growing number of Cubans overstay their visas in order to obtain green cards? A policy that rewards those who violate the terms of their visas is sure to invite questions of fairness. How will the U.S. policy of automatically treating Cubans who reach the United States as refugees affect bilateral relations once diplomatic ties are restored?

Indeed, the Coast Guard has already reported a spike in interdictions of Cubans at sea since the announcement, with 500 interdictions in December—three times the typical amount. The Coast Guard attributes the spike to fear among Cubans that the United States could soon repeal the wet-foot, dry-foot policy.

However, while improved relations may create a pressing need for normalized immigration policies toward Cuba, both Cuba and immigration are highly polarized political issues. Permanently changing these laws will ultimately require approval by the U.S. Congress, and faces a steep uphill climb.

 Playas deEste, August 1994. Did They Make it?

Cuba-leaving-1 Cuba-leaving-2

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A CUBAN BRAIN DRAIN, COURTESY OF THE U.S.

New York Times, THE EDITORIAL BOARD; NOV. 16, 2014

Leer en español (Read in Spanish) »

Secretary of State John Kerry and the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have praised the work of Cuban doctors dispatched to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent an official to a regional meeting the Cuban government convened in Havana to coordinate efforts to fight the disease. In Africa, Cuban doctors are working in American-built facilities. The epidemic has had the unexpected effect of injecting common sense into an unnecessarily poisonous relationship.

And yet, Cuban doctors serving in West Africa today could easily abandon their posts, take a taxi to the nearest American Embassy and apply for a little-known immigration program that has allowed thousands of them to defect. Those who are accepted can be on American soil within weeks, on track to becoming United States citizens.

There is much to criticize about Washington’s failed policies toward Cuba and the embargo it has imposed on the island for decades. But the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which in the last fiscal year enabled 1,278 Cubans to defect while on overseas assignments, a record number, is particularly hard to justify.

It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy.

American immigration policy should give priority to the world’s neediest refugees and persecuted people. It should not be used to exacerbate the brain drain of an adversarial nation at a time when improved relations between the two countries are a worthwhile, realistic goal.

The program was introduced through executive authority in August 2006, when Emilio González, a hard-line Cuban exile, was at the helm of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Mr. González described the labor of Cuban doctors abroad as “state-sponsored human trafficking.” At the time, the Bush administration was trying to cripple the Cuban government. Easily enabling medical personnel posted abroad to defect represented an opportunity to strike at the core of the island’s primary diplomatic tool, while embarrassing the Castro regime.

Cuba has been using its medical corps as the nation’s main source of revenue and soft power for many years. The country has one of the highest numbers of doctors per capita in the world and offers medical scholarships to hundreds of disadvantaged international students each year, and some have been from the United States. According to Cuban government figures, more than 440,000 of the island’s 11 million citizens are employed in the health sector.

Havana gets subsidized oil from Venezuela and money from several other countries in exchange for medical services. This year, according to the state-run newspaper Granma, the government expects to make $8.2 billion from its medical workers overseas. The vast majority, just under 46,000, are posted in Latin America and the Caribbean. A few thousand are in 32 African countries.

Medical professionals, like most Cubans, earn meager wages. Earlier this year, the government raised the salaries of medical workers. Doctors now earn about $60 per month, while nurses make nearly $40. Overseas postings allow these health care workers to earn significantly more. Doctors in Brazil, for example, are making about $1,200 per month.

The 256 Cuban medical professionals treating Ebola patients in West Africa are getting daily stipends of roughly $240 from the World Health Organization. José Luis Di Fabio, the head of the W.H.O. in Havana, said he was confident the doctors and nurses dispatched to Africa have gone on their own volition. “It was voluntary,” Mr. Di Fabio, an Uruguayan whose organization has overseen their deployment, said in an interview. “Some backtracked at the last minute and there was no problem.”

10-03-2014cuban_ebolaCuban Doctors Arriving in Sierra Leone

Some doctors who have defected say they felt the overseas tours had an implicit element of coercion and have complained that the government pockets the bulk of the money it gets for their services. But the State Department says in its latest report on human trafficking that reported coercion of Cuban medical personnel does “not appear to reflect a uniform government policy.” Even so, the Cuban government would be wise to compensate medical personnel more generously if their work overseas is to remain the island’s economic bedrock.

Last year, the Cuban government liberalized its travel policies, allowing most citizens, including dissidents, to leave the country freely. Doctors, who in the past faced stricter travel restrictions than ordinary Cubans, no longer do. Some 20,000 Cubans are allowed to immigrate to the United States yearly. In addition, those who manage to arrive here in rafts or through border crossing points are automatically authorized to stay.

The Cuban government has long regarded the medical defection program as a symbol of American duplicity. It undermines Cuba’s ability to respond to humanitarian crises and does nothing to make the government in Havana more open or democratic. As long as this incoherent policy is in place, establishing a healthier relationship between the two nations will be harder.

Many medical professionals, like a growing number of Cubans, will continue to want to move to the United States in search of new opportunities, and they have every right to do so. But inviting them to defect while on overseas tours is going too far.

New Picture

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CHANGES IN CUBAN LAWS LEAD TO A SURGE OF MIGRANTS ARRIVING IN U. S. BY LAND, SEA AND AIR

24327_1371008405656_1545135432_919318_8061963_nPlayas del Este, August 1994; Did this one make it?

Original: Surge of Migrants

HAVANA (AP) – The number of Cubans heading to the United States has soared since the island lifted travel restrictions last year, and instead of making the risky journey by raft across the Florida Straits, most are now passing through Mexico or flying straight to the U.S.

New U.S. Customs and Border Patrol figures show that more than 22,000 Cubans arrived at the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada in the fiscal year that ended last month. That was nearly double the number in 2012, the year before restrictions were lifted.

The changes in Cuban law eliminate a costly exit visa and make it easier for Cubans to both leave and return to the island legally. Reform of property laws now allows Cubans to sell homes and vehicles, helping would-be emigrants pull together the cash needed to buy airline tickets. With greater access to cash and legal travel documents, the historic pattern of Cuban migration is shifting from daring dangerous voyages at sea to making the journey by air and then land.

The Cuban government is struggling to bolster a dysfunctional centrally planned economy after decades of inefficiency and underinvestment. Recent changes intended to encourage entrepreneurism have borne little fruit and many people are seeking opportunities elsewhere.

While the number of Cubans trying to reach the United States by sea also grew to nearly 4,000 people this past year, the biggest jump by far came from people entering the U.S. by land. And the Cubans flying to Latin America or straight to the United States generally belong to the more prosperous and well-connected strata of society, accelerating the drain of the island’s highly educated.

U.S. officials say that before the recent surge, more than 20,000 Cubans formally migrated to the U.S. every year using visas issued by the U.S. government, while several thousand more entered on tourist visas and stayed. Adding in migrants who entered informally, U.S. officials believe more than 50,000 Cubans were moving to the U.S. every year, leaving behind their homeland of 11 million people.

Many Cubans are using an opportunity offered by Spain in 2008 when it allowed descendants of those exiled during the Spanish Civil War to reclaim Spanish citizenship. A Spanish passport allows visa-free travel to the U.S., Europe and Latin America. The number of Cubans holding a Spanish passport tripled between 2009 and 2011, when it hit 108,000. Many of those Cubans fly to Mexico or the U.S. on their Spanish passports, then present their Cuban passports to U.S. officials.

Thousands of other travelers make their first stop in Ecuador, which dropped a visa requirement for all tourists in 2008. The number of Cubans heading to Ecuador hit 18,078 a year by 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available. From there, many hopscotch north by plane, train, boat or bus through Colombia, Central America and Mexico.

The government last year extended the length of time Cubans can be gone without losing residency rights from one year to two. That means migrants now can obtain U.S. residency and still return to Cuba for extended periods, receive government benefits and even invest money earned in the U.S.

Particularly notable is the departure of young and educated people with the means to leave. In the capital, Havana, it seems most every 20- or 30-something has a plan to go sooner rather than later, mostly to the United States. Nearly everyone has a close friend or relative who already has left for the U.S. in the last few years.

Dozens of Cuban migrants show up every week at the Church World Service office in Miami seeking help. Those without relatives in the U.S. are resettled in other parts of the country, where they are connected with jobs, housing and English classes.

Raimel Rosel, 31, said he left his job at a Havana center for pig genetics and breeding when state security agents began questioning him about extra income he earned from private consulting. He flew to Ecuador in August and then traveled north for 30 days to the Mexican border. “It was really tense,” he said, describing the trip as “utterly exhausting.”

Another man at the church office said “going by boat is madness.” He and his wife and daughter all had Spanish passports, he said. After selling their home in Matanzas province, outside the capital, for $8,000, they flew to Mexico City and then Tijuana, where they crossed into the U.S. He declined to provide his name in order to protect relatives in Cuba from repercussions.

Cubans arriving at a U.S. border or airport automatically receive permission to stay in the United States under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows them to apply for permanent residency after a year, almost always successfully.

While the number of Florida-bound rafters jumped this year, the 2014 figure is generally in line with the average for the last decade. The U.S. Coast Guard says it stopped 2,059 Cuban rafters on the high seas as of Sept. 22, a few hundred more than the average of 1,750 interdicted each year since 2005. Roughly 2,000 more rafters made it to dry land this year. The figure of those stopped was higher from 2005 to 2008, dipped dramatically for three years, then starting climbing again in 2012. Statistics for all Coast Guard contacts with Cuban rafters were not available for years earlier than 2010.

Good weather may have prompted more rafters to attempt the journey this year, said Cmdr. Timothy Cronin, deputy chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Coast Guard district responsible for most interactions with Cuban rafters. “There haven’t been any major storms that have come through the area, no hurricanes,” he said. “We’ve been blessed and in a way cursed by every day being a good day for a mariner to take to the sea, whether for good or for bad.”

Those who reach Florida call home to Cuba, perhaps inspiring others to attempt the trip despite the risks.

Yennier Martínez Díaz arrived in Florida on a raft with eight other people after 10 days at sea in August. The group of friends and neighbors from Camaguey, on Cuba’s northern coast, built the raft with pieces of metal, wood and a motor belonging to an old Russian tractor.

Martínez Díaz, 32, earned about $10 a week cutting brush and sugarcane. He said he wanted to help a brother with cancer by finding a higher-paying job in the U.S. After the motor nearly ran out of gas, the rafters drifted for days in the open water. At one point, they hit a powerful storm and nearly drowned. “I caution everyone not to come by sea,” he said, his face still red from the sun.

24327_1371008365655_1545135432_919317_733453_nHopeful Travelers; Playas del Este, August 1994.

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Debating U.S.-Cuban Relations: Shall We Play Ball?

Debating U.S.-Cuban Relations: Shall We Play Ball?

Jorge I. Dominguez (Editor), Rafael Hernandez (Editor), Lorena G. Barberia (Editor)

New York: Routledge, August 2011;

ISBN-10: 0415893232 | ISBN-13: 978-0415893237



Book Description

Two decades ago, affairs between the United States and Cuba had seen little improvement from the Cold War era. Today, U.S.-Cuban relations are in many respects still in poor shape, yet some cooperative elements have begun to take hold and offer promise for future developments. Illustrated by the ongoing migration agreement, professional military-to-military relations at the perimeter of the U.S. base near Guantánamo, and professional Coast Guard-Guardafrontera cooperation across the Straits of Florida, the two governments are actively exploring whether and how to change the pattern of interactions.

The differences that divide the two nations are real, not the result of misperception, and this volume does not aspire to solve all points of disagreement. Drawing on perspectives from within Cuba as well as those in the United States, Canada, and Europe, these authors set out to analyze contemporary policies, reflect on current circumstances, and consider possible alternatives for improved U.S.-Cuban relations. The resulting collection is permeated with both disagreements and agreements from leading thinkers on the spectrum of issues the two countries face—matters of security, the role of Europe and Latin America, economic issues, migration, and cultural and scientific exchanges in relations between Cuba and the United States. Each topic is represented by perspectives from both Cuban and non-Cuban scholars, leading to a resource rich in insight and a model of transnational dialogue.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“This volume brings together twelve exceptional scholars on U.S.-Cuban relations to explore the key dimensions of that troubled relationship. By including the perspectives of both Cuban and U.S. scholars on topics ranging from national security to culture, the editors provide a fascinating look at the issues that still divide Washington and Havana half a century after the Cuban revolution.”
William M. LeoGrande, American University

Debating U.S.-Cuban Relations offers  an agenda that Washington and Havana should be embracing. It is a splendid primer which I hope will be useful when the United States and Cuba decide to bury an antagonism that has served neither well.”
Marifeli Pérez-Stable, Florida International University

“An excellent exploration of a topic which is important (and fascinating) not only in its own right, but also for its larger implications regarding U.S.-Latin American relations. The editors have assembled an A-List of Cuban specialists who bring to bear not only great expertise, but also a variety of perspectives which should interest people on all sides of this long-standing drama.”
Michael Erisman, Indiana State University

Book Launch:

Speakers: Jorge Dominguez and Rafael Hernandez; Discussant: John Coatsworth

When: 4:00pm; September 22, 2011

Location: IAB 802, Columbia University, 420 West 118th Street, 8th Floor IAB MC 3339, New York, NY 10027; Contact: Columbia University Institute of Latin American Studies, ilas-info@columbia.edu

List of Authors:

Jorge I. Domínguez, Profesor. Universidad de Harvard.

Rafael Hernández, Politólogo. Revista Temas.

Hal Klepak, Profesor. Royal Military College of Canada.

Carlos Alzugaray Tret, Profesor. Centro de Estudios Hemisféricos y sobre Estados Unidos, Universidad de La Habana.

Peter Kornbluh, Investigador. National Security Archive, Washington, DC

Susanne Gratius, Investigadora. Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE), Madrid.

Eduardo Perera Gómez, Investigador. Centro de Estudios Europeo. Universidad de la Habana

Archibald R. M. Ritter. Profesor. Universidad de Carleton, Ottawa.

Jorge Mario Sánchez Egozcue, Investigador y profesor. Centro de Estudios Hemisfericos y sobre Estados Unidos, Universidad de La Habana.

Lorena G. Barberia, Investigadora. Universidad de Harvard.

Antonio Aja Díaz, Historiador y sociólogo. Centro de Estudios Demográficos, Universidad de La Habana.

Sheryl Lutjens, Investigadora. Universidad del Estado de California, en San Marcos.

Milagros Martínez Reinosa, Profesora. Universidad de La Habana.

 

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Cheney Wells: “The Role of Remittances in Cuba’s Non-State Sector Expansion”

How recent changes in remittance policy by the US and Cuba may facilitate small-scale investment to support Cuba’s growing non-state sector

Attached is an interesting MA Thesis by Chaney Wells on remittances and their posible use for microenterprise in Cuba:
Abstract:
This study adds to the existing literature on the potential use of remittances for credit in a financially underdeveloped economy, focusing on Cuba, a country for which little is known about the relationship between remittances and investment. In the past, economic and legal conditions in Cuba, in addition to US and Cuban policies on financial transfers have resulted in a large majority of remittances to Cuba being used for basic consumption. The Cuban government’s changing stance on the non-state sector, as well as recent shifts in both US and Cuban policies on remittances have important  implications for remittance use in Cuba. This paper assesses the factors affecting remittance use, and makes the case that as a result of the concurrent shifts in US and Cuban remittance policy along with Cuba’s non-state sector expansion initiative, a more significant portion of remittances will be used for productive investment purposes, filling the void left by the underdeveloped financial sector.
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