Historians will tell you the Cold War officially ended several decades ago.
Only not between Cuba and the United States.
Even today, as the nations inch closer to restoring full diplomatic ties, harsh feelings and distrust between the two nations still linger.
Overcoming 50 years of a politically severed relationship will not be simple.
Negotiators have settled many differences, yet various matters remain unresolved.
With a presidential election around the corner, several candidates are already engaging in sound bite warfare . . .
. . . making the odds of reaching a full solution unlikely in the short term future.
The Cuban Adjustment Act, a green card program that was given birth by the Cold War animosity of the U.S. and Russia, is one such issue.
First Steps Toward Normalizing Diplomatic Relations
In early January 2011, as a step towards reconciliation, President Obama issued an executive order loosening restrictions on U.S. travel and money remittances to Cuba.
According to White House spokespersons, easing the travel limits is aimed at developing people-to-people contacts between the two countries. By allowing college professors, students, artists, and church groups – academic, artistic, and religious leaders – to freely visit Cuba, relations between the adversaries might improve quite a bit.
The second measure allows anyone in the U.S. to send up to $500 per quarter to non-family members in Cuba. The hope is that this money will support private economic activity. The money, however, cannot be sent to senior Cuban officials or top members of the Communist Party.
Despite media commentary the government’s steps represent a new beginning, there is still a long way to go before the two countries resume a normal diplomatic relationship.
For instance, the new policies do not soften the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, which remains in full effect.
In addition, negotiations for release of Alan Gross, a 62 year old U.S. citizen, held in Cuban custody may stall implementation of Obama’s orders.
Further, the Cuban government has expressed some concern that the U.S. may try to fund dissident activities. They have signaled their intent to closely monitor this situation.
Early Cuban American Reactions To Obama’s Cuban Policies
For more than 50 years, the Cuban-American community, especially in Florida, has been aligned with the Republican Party.
Since a large percentage of them migrated to the U.S. after Fidel Castro came to power, their animosity towards Cuba has not subsided. Hence, it was no surprise that responses from Republican critics were quickly forthcoming.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the newly appointed head of House Foreign Affairs Committee, charged that the changes “will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them.
Marco Rubio, the victorious Tea Party-backed Senator in Florida, asserted, “It is unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that routinely violates the basic human rights rights and dignity of its people.”
In support of the Obama order, Carlos Saladrigas, who heads the Cuban Study Group in Washington, D.C., praised the money remittances portions, “The one measure I particularly praise is the one about Americans sending remittances, as this will be an effective and legal way to get financing for this new business class.”
With Cuba expected to lose 1.8 million jobs in the next few years, Saladrigas views this influx as a means to compensate for the layoffs and lost income.
What Is The Future Of The Cuban Adjustment Act?
As a green card and citizenship attorney, I know what happens in Cuba – U.S. relations is critical to many Cuban clients.
At present, as explained in The Cuban Adjustment Act: A Special Path To Permanent Residence And Citizenship, Cubans benefit from one of the most unique immigration programs ever designed.
The program evolved out of our government’s anger with the Castro government. To protect Cuban dissidents, the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), one of a handful of special immigration programs, was passed in 1966.
CAA allows Cuban nationals to apply for green cards merely one year after they have been admitted or paroled into the U.S. Moreover, admission is pretty much automatic once Cuban nationals touch American soil..
The drafters of the Cuban Adjustment Act believed that when a democratically elected government takes over in Cuba, the CAA would automatically expire. Unfortunately, international politics does not operate in such a tidy manner.
2016 Update On The Cuban Adjustment Act
As of January 2016, the immediate future of the Cuban Adjustment Act is still unclear. Politics not policy will dictate if, when, and how the CAA will reach its end.
Since President Obama’s initial executive order, certain foreseeable issues have become reality.
These matters include:
- an increase of Cuban immigrants arriving at American ports of entry
- Cuban immigrants risking their lives to reach the U.S. before their window of opportunity to legalize status under the Cuban Adjustment Act is terminated
- the Cuban-American political leadership struggles with appeasing their constituency on immigration issues
An Increase Of Cuban Immigrants Coming To America
Since the Cold War mentality of the two countries has thawed, Cuban immigration to the U.S. has greatly increased, in part due to fears of the Act’s imminent death.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, only 7,759 Cubans entered the United States in 2011.
In contrast, after the Cuban government lifted travel restrictions, 24,278 Cuban immigrants came to the U.S. in 2014. A year later, in 2015, following the re-opening of the American embassy in Havana, the number of Cuban immigrants who entered the U.S. increased to 43, 159.
Cuban Immigrants Risk Their Lives To Try To Reach U.S. Soil
Aware of this new wave of migrants, the U.S. beefed up its Coast Guard interception operations – an action which has led Cubans to bypass the Florida Straits and to embark on a new, convoluted path to reach American borders.
By preventing Cubans from reaching U.S. soil, the one year and a day rule will not apply to those captured.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that “tens of thousands” of Cuban immigrants are now flying to Ecuador, a country which did not require a travel visa. From there, they travel through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico in hopes of reaching the American border.
Recent problems with smuggling rings and the refusal of the Costa Rica to let them pass through their borders, several thousand have been diverted to El Salvador, from where they travel on to Guatemala.
No Firm Political Will To Resolve Cuban Immigration Issues
Meanwhile, Cuban-American community leaders remain divided on the best mechanisms for dealing with the Cuban Adjustment Act. However, reports of social security and welfare fraud have prompted political figuresow a , like Senator Rubio, to adopt a tougher stance towards the Act.
Now a candidate for President, Senator Rubio has publicly asserted the U.S. needs to “re-examine” the Cuban Adjustment Act. He has also indicated that he will soon unveil a legislative plan to address abuses of refugee assistance provided to Cuban migrants.
With so much uncertainty, as a San Bernardino immigration attorney, I have to look ahead, politically and legally, for my clients from Cuba.
Each step forward moves Cuba closer to a democratic government. When it happens, CAA may cease to exist. At that point, however, would CAA be necessary anyway?
Of course, it is possible Cuba will not become a democracy.
Nonetheless, it seems that CAA’s provisions will be substantially modified in the near future – with or without eliminating CAA altogether.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics