As the long-chilled relations between the United States and Cuba begin to thaw, potential changes in an immigration policy that offers automatic political refugee status to nationals who arrive on U.S. soil has translated to a stark acceleration in the Cuban migration rates to the United States. By sea, land and air, higher numbers of Cubans are making their way to the United States.
In December, for example, the Coast Guard saw a 117 percent increase in the number of boats and rafts it intercepted relative to the number of intercepts from a year earlier, in December 2013. But Cuban migration also travels over land and through the air with a 65 percent increase in the last three months of 2014 over the last three months of 2013. Cuban arrivals at the Miami airport and also the ports of entry along the Mexican border totaled 8,624 immigrants from October to December 2014.
That President Obama’s announcement regarding the thaw in official relations with Cuba came as a surprise to most everyone is at least part of the reason behind immigrants’ sense of urgency, according to a story on the topic in the Washington Post. As the “surprise nature of Obama’s Cuba move — after 18 months of secret talks with officials of the Castro government — has reinforced the sense that any of the long-standing pillars of U.S. policy toward the island could fall without warning.”
The crux of U.S. policy on Cuban immigration is the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), a federal law adopted in 1966. CAA allows Cubans to apply for U.S. residency one year and one day after arriving on U.S. soil. The rule is unique to Cuban and nothing similar exists for any other foreigners. CAA faces plenty of criticism from parties in both countries. In a January, the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously voted in favor to ask Congress to revise CAA. While the vote carried no real political currency, the heavy Cuban population in the area carried a good deal of symbolic weight. A report in the Miami Herald puts it this way, “They have characterized their goal as weeding out so-called economic refugees who return to Cuba as soon as they’re legally able, sometimes taking with them the wealth they have accumulated in the U.S.”
Political leadership in Havana is likewise critical of CAA. According to reports, Cuban officials see CAA as a policy that encourages risky immigration efforts and also promotes brain drain of the country’s best and brightest professionals who “are enticed to take their training and talent to the United States after receiving a free education through the island’s socialist system,” according to the Washington Post.
Cuban-Americans reportedly made 400.000 trips back to their native island country in 2014.