WASHINGTON, USA – In response to the US Embassy in Havana’s September 21 announcement of the full resumption of immigrant visa processing for Cuban nationals in early 2023, the released the following statement:
“CDA applauds the Biden-Harris administration’s long-awaited announcement that immigrant visa services at the US Embassy in Havana will be fully restored in early 2023 and no longer outsourced to the US Embassy in Guyana. This decision is a necessary step to fulfill promises outlined by the Administration in May and to comply with the 1994/1995 migration accords. It is also a step towards responding to the 22-year record numbers of Cubans apprehended by US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and to the significant increase in the number of Cubans interdicted by the US Coast Guard, that in 2022 has exceeded the past five years combined.
CDA’s executive director María José Espinosa, states: ‘A fully staffed US Embassy in Havana helps support legal migration pathways, which are key building-blocks to ensure safe, orderly, and regular migration from Cuba to the US, and a smart and humane response to the increasing numbers of people emigrating from the island. Now, with this necessary foundation, the US government needs to continue taking steps towards comprehensive coordinated foreign policy and migration management strategies rooted in engagement.’
As the embassy begins to address the backlog of nearly 91,000 immigrant visa applications for Cubans and an estimated 22,000 applications from the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (CFRP), we look forward to seeing:
1) expedited full visa processing in Havana, including non-immigrant visas for students, entrepreneurs, artists, academics, families, and other meaningful travel from Cuba to the US; 2) new CFRP invitations issued in the near future; and 3) the reopening of the Refugee Section that administers the US Refugee Admission Program in Cuba.
We also urge the Administration to take steps to humanely respond to immigration by sea, including:
1) strengthening search and rescue operations; 2) instating protection-sensitive systems that can help identify protection needs; 3) preventing refoulement by allowing access to territory for purposes of refugee status determination; 4) strengthening training in human rights, refugee law, and humanitarian principles for the US Coast Guard and other immigration authorities; and 5) offering referrals to protection services such as civil society and humanitarian organizations and authorities that provide health, social, and legal services.
The US and countries in the region have a responsibility to uphold their commitment under the June 2022 Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection to ‘create the conditions for safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration and to strengthen frameworks for international protection and cooperation,’ as well as to promote the stability of communities of destination, origin, transit, and return. CDA is concerned about how the US’s response to Cuban migration has put pressure on regional migration mechanisms and regional partners and contributed to the current implementation of visa regimes across the region. These visas negatively impact Cubans and other individuals seeking refuge, leading them to travel along more dangerous routes and, thus, result in failed policies that undermine genuine safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration management.
We are also concerned about the possibility of the expulsion of Cuban migrants through Title 42 flights. As it has been widely documented, this policy prevents refugees from exercising their right to request asylum and returns them to places where they face violence and persecution, increases the rate of repeat border crossing attempts, disproportionately affects Black and brown migrants, and strains resources in neighboring countries in the region to which these migrants are expelled. We urge the US and countries of the region to instead build protection-sensitive systems at borders in order to identify needs, protect against refoulement, and ensure access to asylum procedures, as well as to cooperate in strategies that meaningfully foster the stabilization of displaced populations and host communities.
While the aforementioned actions are necessary, the US cannot address the current increase in the number of people leaving Cuba with migration policies alone. To adequately address Cuban migration and allow the expansion of the embassy’s services to be effective, it should be paired with a broader policy of bilateral diplomatic engagement with Cuba on issues of mutual interest beyond migration. It is the proximity and knowledge afforded by a policy of engagement that can allow the US to best address humanitarian concerns, support Cuba’s civil society and private sector, bolster human rights, and address irregular migration. Coming to the table and addressing policies of mutual concern is the first step to laying the groundwork for change that affords Cubans the opportunity to stay and empowers them to advocate for their future and the future of their country.
To that end, it is critical that the US prioritize both engagement policies and measures that give entrepreneurs and civil society increased economic freedoms. At this pivotal moment, among other measures, the US should remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List (SSOT) and rescind the recently announced entry visa requirement for foreign travelers traveling to the US if they have previously visited Cuba. It should also remove barriers to remittances, banking transactions, the provision of humanitarian aid, and to travel for Cubans and Americans alike. Removing such US policies that restrict Cuba’s growing private sector and diverse civil society is of paramount importance to supporting the Cuban people and the future of the island.
‘As the people of Cuba continue to suffer and Cuban migrants and asylum seekers continue to reach US borders in record numbers, it is time for US policy to move beyond failed and reactionary measures based on conditions and motivations set 60 years ago, and towards smart and creative policy solutions based on contemporary realities and a policy of engagement,’ said Ms Espinosa. ‘In doing so, the US can lay a foundation for safe, legal, protection-sensitive regional migration while advancing US national security interests, deliver robust support for Cuba’s private sector and civil society, contribute to meaningful and genuine responsibility sharing, and reduce further suffering on the part of the Cuban people.’”