‘No hope or future’: US-Cuba talks focus on irregular migration

Andy Gomez was waiting with anticipation for the U.S.-Cuba meeting on Thursday. The professor emeritus of Cuban studies at the University of Miami said Cuba has historically allowed migration to the U.S. during times of crisis.

MIAMI – Andy Gomez was waiting with anticipation for the U.S.-Cuba meeting on Thursday. The professor emeritus of Cuban studies at the University of Miami said Cuba has historically allowed migration to the U.S. during times of crisis and now isn’t any different.

Amid a COVID-related decrease in tourism and other failures, Gomez said Cuban officials had readopted the strategy of making it easy for economic refugees to leave the island. It’s a strategy Cuban officials have denied.

“Young Cubans and others basically see no hope or future,” Gomez said.

More Cubans started to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border after Nicaragua started to welcome Cubans without visas last year. Also, Cuban officials have not been allowing U.S. deportation flights to land on the island for months.

“They have been consistent over the last 63 years in the actions that they take,” Gomez said.

The author of “Social Challenges Facing Cuba” also said the Cuban exodus has happened in waves. The first exiles escaped from 1959 to 1962. Instead of admitting their economic system is ineffective, Cuban communists view the U.S. embargo as the culprit of all failures, Gomez said.

Former President John F. Kennedy imposed the Cold War measure before The Freedom Flights and The Mariel boatlift followed. To deal with the rafter crisis, former President Bill Clinton’s administration agreed to no longer allow Cubans intercepted at sea to come to the U.S.

The U.S. “wet foot, dry foot” policy prompted generations of Cubans to risk their lives in the Florida Straits.

After the long post-Soviet exodus, the migration decreased when former President Barack Obama put an end to the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which provided a path to legal status for decades. Months later, former President Donald Trump closed the consular section in Havana.

Trump’s decision followed the mysterious “sonic” attacks that resulted in the “Havana syndrome” that affected U.S. and Canadian officials. After the SOS Cuba protests last year, President Joe Biden imposed new sanctions on Cuban officials.

Last month, Biden’s administration announced the consulate in Havana was going to resume the limited processing of visas. On Tuesday, Cuban Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Josefina Vidal blamed the U.S. for the ongoing immigration crisis.

“For Cuba, these talks are important. They always have been,” Vidal said during an interview with CNN and The Associated Press.

Cuban Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Josefina Vidal asks for a face mask after talking to reporters with CNN and The Associated Press on Tuesday in Havana. (AP Foto/Ramon Espinosa) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío and Deputy Assistance Secretay Emily Mendrala led the Cuban delegation in Washington, D.C., Thursday to urge President Joe Biden’s administration to comply with bilateral migration agreements. Vidal said the rises in migration happen when the agreements aren’t respected.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of Cuba, “both delegations reviewed compliance with the Bilateral Migration Accords as well as the mutual commitment to ensure a regular, safe and orderly migration.”

(Read more from the ministry here.)

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had announced Wednesday that the U.S. was going to resume talks on immigration with Cuba. He and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken were in Panama to discuss irregular migration to the U.S.

“We have had migration accords with the country of Cuba for many, many years. Those were discontinued, and we will explore the possibility of resuming that,” Mayorkas said. “That is a reflection of our commitment to legal, orderly, and humane pathways so individuals including Cubans would not take, for example, to the seas, which is an extraordinarily perilous journey.”

US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, left, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, talk on Tuesday during a summit in Panama. (Brendan Smialowski/The Associated Press) (AFP or licensors)

U.S. officials have also reported a rise of undocumented migrants from Haiti, Venezuela, and the Northern Triangle. The Biden administration also plans to end Trump’s Title 42, a pandemic-related policy to limit asylum grants.

“Migrants are vulnerable to exploitation of all kinds,” Blinken said in Panama. “Many are children, and their fates, their futures, are highly uncertain. We have a responsibility, a shared responsibility, to look out for them.”

Irregular migration will also be the focus of the June 6-10 Summit of the Americas.

US data on irregular Cuban migration

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a sharp increase in nationwide encounters with Cuban migrants in March of this year. The majority were single adults.

The encounters include U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions, migrants deemed inadmissible by the Office of Field Operations, and Title 42 expulsions.

US data as of April 20, 2022. (USCBP)

Interactive graphic: U.S. maritime interdictions


About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.