In the face of a surge in Cuban migrants arriving in the United States, Cuba is accusing Washington of politicizing migration policy between the two countries and encouraging “illegal and unsafe” migration from the island.
Cuba has long objected to the Cuban Adjustment Act, the wet foot/dry foot policy and a parole program that makes it easy for Cuban doctors to come to the United States. But this year — as 46,635 Cubans have arrived at U.S. ports of entry — its objections have become more pointed.
In the latest statement, released Sunday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Cuban government said U.S. policy toward Cuban migrants violates “the letter and spirit” of U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords that were signed in 1994-95.
On Saturday afternoon, 14 Cubans who were deported from Colombia arrived in Havana aboard a Colombian air force plane. Those in the group left Cuba legally, said the Minrex statement, and went to various countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
But in their quest to arrive in the United States, they became “victims of human traffickers and delinquent bands operating in the region,” the statement said. “These citizens are victims of the politicization of the migration theme on the part of the United States government, which stimulates illegal and unsafe migration.”
The Cubans sent back to the island were part of a group of some 1,300 migrants who are stranded in the Colombian town of Turbo, near the border with Panama, trying to figure out a way to continue their journey north to the United States. Most of them are Cuban and Haitian, but there also are Africans and Asians in the group, according to a survey in late July by the Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office. In May, Panama closed its border to the migrants.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous body of the Organization of American States, expressed deep concern about the vulnerability of the stranded group, which includes pregnant women as well as children and newborns.
The Commission said Monday that it has received information that some migrants, frustrated at the lack of legal or safe migration channels, have turned to clandestine routes, including through the jungle region of the Darien Gap, making them vulnerable to abuse and extortion by criminal organizations, smugglers and sometimes police.
“The fact that migrants are turning to irregular channels and to traffickers is explained by the absence and shortage of legal and safe migratory channels. We call on the American states to take immediate action to open up channels that allow these people to migrate legally and safely,” said IACHR President James Cavallaro.
Before Colombia continues deportations and voluntary exits, the commission said it should identify migrants with special need for protection such as asylum seekers, refugees and those victimized by human traffickers and decide cases individually.
Among tools that countries in the Americas can use to alleviate the migrant crisis are humanitarian admission programs, family reunification visas, student scholarships, labor mobility programs, private sponsorships and refugee resettlement programs, the commission said.
Not only do U.S. migration policies stimulate illegal and unsafe migration, the Cuban government said, but the United States admits Cubans even if they enter U.S. territory by illegal means, “contrasting with the treatment received by other Latin American emigrants who are rejected.”
The United States maintains it has no plans to change its Cuban migration policies and is committed to safe, orderly and legal migration. The United States and Cuba met in Washington for their biannual migration talks on July 14, but the State Department only released a brief statement that said little beyond the assertion that both the U.S. and Cuban delegations reiterated the importance of the migration accords.
A Pew Research Center analysis of government data shows that during the first 10 months of this year, 46,635 Cubans have entered the United States through ports of entry — already surpassing the total of 43,159 for all of last fiscal year. Arrivals for fiscal 2015 were up 78 percent over 2014 when 24,278 Cubans entered the United States.
“The surge in the number of Cubans entering the country began in the months immediately following the president’s” Dec. 2014 announcement that the United States and Cuba were working toward normalizing relations, Pew said.
There also has been a surge in the number of Cubans trying to reach U.S. shores by sea. Under the U.S. wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans who make it to shore are permitted to enter the United States but those who are interdicted at sea are generally sent back to Cuba.
In fiscal 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard picked up 2,927 Cubans at sea. As of Monday, the number of interdictions this fiscal year stood at 4,179. Migrant flow numbers, which include landings, interdictions and those dissuaded from continuing their voyages, so far this year have reached 5,856, compared to 4,473 for the entire fiscal year 2015.