Recently, the United States and Cuba engaged in bilateral discussions regarding the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords for the first time since 2018. We commend the Biden-Harris Administration for finally engaging with the Cuban government directly and in a respectful way. The Trump Administration had discontinued these bi-annual meetings, whose goals were to ensure orderly and safe migration. The accords included a commitment by the United States to process at least 20,000 immigrant visas annually from its Embassy in Havana, as well as visas for family visits.
In 2017, the Trump Administration shut down nearly all consular services in Havana, a move that continues to force Cubans traveling to the United States to travel to Guyana or another third country to apply for a visa –assuming all the expenses associated with such travel– and without any certainty of obtaining one. Although the Biden-Harris Administration recently announced that it would reopen consular services at the Embassy in Havana, it is on a very limited basis and most visa applicants will continue to need to travel to a third country to apply for and obtain a visa. As a result, many Cuban migrants are still pursuing unsafe and often deadly migration routes.
Therefore, a first step to stop this dangerous irregular migration flow, should be fulfilling the commitment to issue at least 20,000 visas a year via the U.S. Embassy in Havana. To truly address a root cause of Cuban irregular migration, the U.S. government should also eventually repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, which bestows unique preferential immigration status on Cuban migrants, granting them a fast track to legal permanent residency and the benefits this entails. The privileges afforded to Cubans by this law, who are not required to demonstrate persecution unlike other asylum seekers, runs counter to international legal standards concerning asylum law and excludes immigrants from other countries who are truly fleeing violence and are not afforded these same guarantees.
Since the current exodus of Cubans is primarily due to serious economic hardships –of which U.S. sanctions play a major role– the Biden-Harris Administration should act quickly to reverse the executive measures taken by President Trump that are designed to perpetuate an on-going economic crisis. These measures include the suspension of remittances, inclusion of Cuba in the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, activation of Title III of Helms-Burton, limits to travel; all of which have severely limited the capacity of Cuban families and the Cuban economy to effectively respond to the current economic and health crisis.
While U.S. migration policies for Latin American and Caribbean countries involve millions of dollars of U.S. development aid to prevent migration, the embargo towards Cuba has the exact opposite effect. As has been acknowledged by various U.S. administrations, the embargo intentionally seeks to strangle the island’s economy. The embargo is designed to create harsh living conditions on the island, and thereby encourage unrest, along with often desperate and irregular migration. Therefore, the only way to truly end such migration is to abandon all U.S. policies, laws and measures that continue to harm the well-being of the Cuban people and that in and of itself constitute a human rights violation and a form of collective punishment.