However, sooner or later, analysts say, Cuba’s new travel policy will have an impact on U.S. policy.
“I think there’s an understanding in Cuba that finally the ball is going to be in the other court,’’ Amuchastegui said.
Cuba’s new policy, for example, may indirectly prompt calls from other migrant groups for the same access to the United States now enjoyed by Cubans, said Pastor. “I think this will be a real test for the Cuban lobby to retain the Cuban Adjustment Act.’’
But Larry Rifkin, a Miami immigration lawyer, said, “The Cuban Adjustment Act won’t be removed until democracy returns to Cuba.’’
In the meantime, Cubans who reach U.S. borders can seek refugee status and will be admitted.
Rifkin was counsel in a 2007 case known as the “Matter of Vasquez” that involved a Venezuelan native born in Caracas to Cuban parents. The case, he said, established a legal precedent as to who qualifies as a Cuban national and is eligible under the adjustment act.
Now the U.S. accepts, he said, that a child born outside Cuba to at least one parent who is a Cuban citizen at the time of the child’s birth and registers the birth at a Cuba consulate in the country where the child is born is considered to have acquired Cuban citizenship.
So-called step-across the border migration to the United States might also be aided by Spain’s Law of Historical Memory, which gives citizenship to the descendants of Spaniards who were persecuted and fled during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship.
Spain has closed the period for accepting passport applications under the law, which went into effect in 2008, but successful applicants also have the right to request Spanish passports for their minor children. Applications from 200,000 Cubans were presented before the deadline last year and the Spanish Consulate estimates it may receive an additional 200,000 applications for children, said Gregorio Laso, a spokesman for the Spanish Embassy in Washington. Several thousand Cubans have already received Spanish passports under the law, setting them up for travel to Spain and countries and territories that don’t require entry visas for Spanish citizens. In the Caribbean that includes the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos.
The Spanish themselves aren’t expecting a large influx of Cubans under the new policy. “It is not so easy to move your family and begin a new life in another country without a job,’’ Laso said. Spain’s unemployment rate is currently 26.6 percent.
But he said the embassy was aware of some Cubans who have tried to enter the United States on Spanish passports. Some have been rejected, he said, but more recently, cases have been referred to immigration judges. Spaniards can visit the U.S. without a visa.
For its part, Cuba has said it wants its travel laws to be similar to those of other countries.
“For many Cubans, this is a very positive thing,’’ said Nik Steinberg, an Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch, “but the critical question, as with any reform, is how it is implemented. The real test will be whether those who are critical of the government’’ will be allowed to get their passports and travel.
The Cuban government is apparently betting that most Cubans who travel abroad will return. A program broadcast on Cuban television in October gave this statistic: Of 941,953 Cubans who traveled to foreign countries from 2000 to last August, 12.8 percent — or 120,705 people — didn’t come back to Cuba.
Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.