Washington discreetly supports deportations of Cuban migrants
Washington discreetly supports deportations of Cuban migrants
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
The recent increase in undocumented Cuban emigration — 44,353 reached
the United States in the past eight months alone — is complicating the
Obama Administration’s drive to normalize relations with Havana and cut
the migrant flow through Central America.
Trying to halt the massive and almost permanent flow of Cubans treking
north toward the Mexico-U.S. border, Washington appears to be promoting
the same policy it follows at home — large-scale deportations of
The Cuban migration crisis exploded late last year when Costa Rica
cracked down on a people smuggling network, unleashing a chain reaction
that saw Nicaragua and then Panama close their southern borders to
undocumented Cubans. From the start, the U.S. government has referred to
the Cubans as “undocumented immigrants” and urged governments in the
region to tighten their migration controls as part of the fight against
A State Department spokesperson in November said that “all countries
have the duty to put in place documentation requirements and border
control mechanisms. This ensures that no travelers will arrive without
documents, as well as the return of undocumented immigrants to their
starting point, in accordance with the law and international practice.”
And just this month, a senior State Department official said the issue
of emigration had been discussed with the governments of Cuba and
Central and Latin American countries affected by the exodus.
The governments of Cuba and several Central American countries have
blamed U.S. immigration policies for the increase in Cuban migration and
the humanitarian crises it has sparked. In the U.S. Congress, Republican
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo have blamed the exodus on
President Barack Obama’s decision to warm relations with Cuba and the
absence of positive changes on the island.
Behind the scenes, however, the U.S. government has been seeking ways to
contain the exodus without changing U.S. policy, documents and official
Cubans without U.S. visas who reach the United States are allowed to
stay under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, and the Cuban Adjustment Act
then allows them to obtain permanent residence after 366 days. Efforts
by Curbelo and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., to change the policy have failed.
In January 2015, when some 8,000 cubans were stranded in Costa Rica, the
U.S. government donated $1 million to the International Organization for
Migration to provide food, water and medicine for the Cuban migrants.
The donation did not become public until March. That crisis was resolved
when the migrants were airlifted to Mexico and then continued to the
U.S. border. Another airlift later carried nearly 3,000 Cubans stranded
in Panama to Mexico.
Thousands more remain stranded in Colombia and Ecuador, however.
In the Colombian town of Turbo, more than 1,000 stranded Cuban migrants
are seeing their dreams of reaching the United States fade after
President Juan Manuel Santos recently announced they would be expelled.
The airlifts to Mexico from other Latin American nations have been
costly, and the increase in Cuban migration has put pressure on the
infrastructure and public assistance agencies in towns not prepared to
deal with such large groups. In Turbo, the mayor recently declared a
“state of public calamity” because of the overcrowding and unsanitary
conditions faced by the Cubans, who want to cross into neighboring
Panama to the north.
A senior State Department official has said that Washington views the
airlifts to Mexico “useful to alleviate temporary humanitarian issues at
the time, but we don’t see that as a viable medium and long-term
approach. We may need to engage with both the Central Americans and the
Mexicans in terms of promoting the idea of safe, orderly, legal
migration and restricting or repatriating irregular migrants.”
Ecuador’s decision last year to start requiring entry visas for Cubans
appeared to be the result of negotiations between the different
governments affected by the crisis, judging from the official’s comments.
“The impact of some of the discussions that have been held was [that]
many of the Cuban migrants were moving through Ecuador, where there is
not a visa requirement for Cubans. A visa requirement has been imposed
by the Ecuadoran Government, which has reduced the flow to some extent
there,” said the State Department official. “In fact, the Ecuadoran
Government deported, I think, over 200 Cubans back to Cuba, who clearly
The Ecuadoran government drew harsh criticism from human rights
activists after it evicted hundreds of Cuban protesters from a Quito
park and then deported 122 to Cuba within one week.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the
Organization of American States, said it has received information that
the Cubans deported were not migrants but people who were “seeking
asylum and refuge.”
Several countries in the region already are tightening their immigration
Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín announced in mid-July
that her country had deported 2,841 Cubans to Ecuador since Jan. 1.
Santos said Wednesday that Colombia must reform its laws “to more
effectively control this type of immigrants, who cause problems for the
mayors of the towns where they gather.”
Colombian authorities have not clarified whether the Cubans stranded in
Turbo will be deported to the island or to the country from where they
The State Department did not respond directly when asked earlier this
week if it regards deportations as a long-term solution to the Cuban
exodus. Instead, a statement was issued stating that the U.S. is
“monitoring the situation involving irregular Cuban migrants in
Turbo”and remains “concerned for the safety of all migrants throughout
“Irregular migration often involves dangerous journeys that illustrate
the inherent risks and uncertainties of involvement with smugglers and
organized crime in attempts to reach the United States,” the statement
said. “We continue to encourage all countries to respect the human
rights of migrants and asylum-seekers and to ensure they are treated
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