CDA applauds bilateral US-Cuba migration talks

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WASHINGTON, USA – In response to the meeting Thursday between the US and Cuba to discuss the implementation of the US-Cuba migration accords, The Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) released the following statement and policy recommendations:

“CDA applauds the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment ‘to pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba’ and for taking the necessary steps to begin to address the important issue of Cuban migration. We encourage the Administration to restart broader bilateral diplomatic engagement with Cuba on a range of issues, which will address US national security interests, US policy goals pertaining to human rights and empowering the Cuban people, reduce bilateral tensions, adhere to US regional cooperation and migration commitments, and mitigate future crises.

Cuban migration has seen a recent massive uptick, with more than 47,000 Cuban migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees heading to the United States (US) since the start of this fiscal year. At this pace, by October 2022, Cuban attempted migration to the US, could rival the historic 1980 Mariel boatlift, when approximately 125,000 Cubans arrived in the US.

While the drivers of Cuban migration are multifactorial and include the dire humanitarian situation on the island, the economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Cuban government’s repressive and heavy-handed response to the July 11 protests, the US is further contributing to irregular migration by continuing to enforce blanket sanctions and enacting a failed policy of isolation that refuses to address the reality faced by Cuban migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees.

By isolating everyday Cubans by cutting off legal channels for remittances and travel while simultaneously foregoing support for the Cuban people on the island through a policy of hostility, the US is aggravating the human rights situation on the ground and providing a convenient scapegoat for the island’s economic woes and increased government crackdowns on civil society, dissidents, and other independent voices.

What’s more, the US has made it difficult, if not impossible, for Cubans to access legal pathways of migration by halting annual migration talks since July 2018, failing to comply with its 1994 migratory accords with Cuba, and making it difficult to secure immigrant visas due to the pace of returning the US Embassy in Havana to full capacity. History shows us that engagement and dialogue is the most effective way to ensure safe, orderly, and humane migration.

The US can take advantage of the solutions it already has at-hand to mitigate, manage, and ensure orderly regional migration and which only require the will to implement, such as:

Expedite the restoration of the staff, status, and capacity of the US Embassy in Havana to be fully operational so that all visa categories can be processed and all Cubans can be supported.

  • Resume the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (CFRP).
  • Uphold the US’s 1994/1995 migration accords commitment to issue 20,000 visas annually to Cuban nationals.
  • Reverse the reduction of the B2 visa validity for Cuban nationals from a three-month single-entry visa to a five-year multiple entries visa.
  • Reopen the Refugee Section that administers the US Refugees Admission Program in Cuba.

Further, excluding Cuba from ongoing US-led multilateral regional migration negotiations is short-sighted and ignores the reality that irregular Cuban migration also places additional strain on the US’s regional partners such as Costa Rica, Panama, and Guyana; Cubans were also the second-largest population to cross through the Darién Gap, Panama in 2021, totaling 18,600.

As the US is actively working with governments throughout the hemisphere in crafting the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection in advance of the Ninth Summit of the Americas (SOA) and has expressed commitment to bilateral cooperation in the region on ‘security, strengthening democratic institutions, [and] inclusive economic growth,’ as well irregular migration, forced displacement, and corruption, it should include a clear path forward with regards to Cuban migration.

The US cannot address the migration crisis with migration policies alone. To avoid future crises, the US should apply its “root cause” strategy with Cuba too. The administration can address humanitarian concerns and support human rights and civil society in Cuba through policies of engagement.

To that end, the US should:

  • Remove tedious reporting requirements and bureaucratic processes to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid.
  • Offer short-term general licenses for those categories of sales or donations.
  • Lift restrictions on banking and financial transactions related to humanitarian aid.
  • Lift restrictions and caps on family and donative remittances.
  • Remove sanctions on US-based subscription-based platforms and other US-based firms which provide cloud-based services such as online payment processing to Cuba.
  • Support access to effective internet in Cuba and help facilitate the free flow of information across Cuba and between the US and Cuba.
  • Remove restrictions on private and commercial travel across the island.

By hosting talks with Cuba on migration, the US is putting its policy goals and vision for the region into action. We encourage the Administration to continue engaging on issues of mutual concern in order to advance US interests, avoid future humanitarian and migratory crises, mitigate strain on resources along the migratory route, and reduce further suffering on the part of the Cuban people.”

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