One of the few Havanans not happy with the historic agreements of December 17th between President Obama and General Raul Castro was Dagoberto, a guy approaching forty who got out of jail six months ago after serving a six-year sentence for marijuana possession.
“I have family in la yuma (US), but because of my drug possession record I don’t qualify for the family reunification program. My only option is to throw myself into the sea and make it to the Mexican border,” he said while drinking a Corona beer in a Havana bar.
A couple of times in 2014, Dagoberto tried to reach the United States. “The first time the American Coast Guard intercepted me. I spent $3,000 to buy a motor and gas and with a group of friends we prepared a wooden boat.
“The second time I boarded a plane for Ecuador. But customs in Quito sent me back to Cuba. It’s rumored that with the new policy, the Adjustment Act’s days are numbered, for people who plan to leave on a raft or enter through a third country. I have to hurry if I want to get to the North.”
In a park in Vedado, two blocks from the United States Interests Section (USIS) in Cuba, where from the early hours in the morning people line up for visas, the topic of discussion is the Cuban Adjustment Act.
In the past two years, Ihosvany has been denied a visa four times. But he keeps trying. “A cousin in Orlando invited me and they denied me a tourist visa. Now I’m doing the paperwork to leave for family reunification, to see if I have more luck.”
USIS consular officials insist that for those people who want to travel or emigrate to the United States, the strategy of applying over and over for a visa is not the best.
Yulia, desperate to leave the country, openly ignores them. In a house near USIS, she fills out the paperwork to take to the consulate again. “Three times they’ve told me no. We are going to see if the fourth time is lucky, because a friend in Chicago got me into a university program. If what they say is true, that the Adjustment Act will be repealed in 2015, there will be another Mariel Boatlift. There are tens of thousands of people who want to leave Cuba.”
Every year, the Interests Section awards more than 20,000 visas under the Family Reunification program. In the last 20 years, about half a million people have left the Island through the migration accords signed by Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro in 1994.
But demand exceeds supply. Those who don’t have relatives or spouses resort to any trick or simply opt to launch themselves into the turbulent waters of the Florida Straits in a rubber raft.
In an attempt to discourage the worrying growth in illegal journeys from the Island, the US authorities have reiterated that the immigration policy and the Coast Guard operations will continue without changes and insist that only Congress can repeal the current laws on Cuban refugees.
The Coast Guard issued a government warning, after an unprecedented growth in the illegal flow of emigrants from Cuba during the second half of December and the first days of January, coinciding with President Barack Obama’s announcement of the normalization of relations with Havana.
According to analysts in the United States, the steps taken by Obama don’t alter the Cuban Adjustment Act and it is not a priori in danger of being repealed by a presidential act. It is a Federal law, Public Law 89-732/1966, approved by the U.S. 89th Congress. Being a public and general interest law — unlike a “Private Laws” — it can only be amended, revised or revoked by the Congress of the United States of America.
But the Cuban rafters appear to have deaf ears. A total of 890 Cubans have been intercepted in the Straits of Florida and in the Caribbean zone, or have managed to make it to the U.S. coast since the beginning of the 2015 Fiscal Year, last October 1. Of them, 577 have done so during December and the first days of January in an escalation that has set off alarms in Washington and Miami.
After Obama’s announcement, the Cuban side captured 421 people at sea. Everything seems to indicate that the flow could increase. Cuban-American members of Congress and Senators are questioning the letter and spirit of the law.
Many Cubans say they are politically persecuted and so they flee, invoking this when they decide to seek asylum in the United States. But in a few months they return to Cuba, as tourists. Incongruities that are difficult to explain.
A majority of Cubans, on both shores, demanded the normalization of relations with the United States and the end of the embargo. But, according to a recent survey conducted by Florida International University, 85% of Cuban-Americans in south Florida favor the continuation of the Adjustment Act. Even among the generation that left Cuba between 1959 and 1962, only 36% favor its elimination, while 64% are opposed.
It doesn’t look like a winner. If the relationship between the governments goes down the path of good neighbors, the White House will have no reason to give special treatment to Cuban citizens.
If the Adjustment Act was created to legalize the status of thousands of Cubans who fled from the Castro autocracy, then it should be applied that way. And Cubans who take shelter under this law, should only be able to travel to the Island in exceptional cases. Not to spend time with their families or have a beer with friends in the neighborhood.
This is privilege enjoyed by no other citizen in the world, to settle in the United States. Either the laws are abided by or their existence makes no sense.
Photo: One of the lines that forms daily outside the United States Interest Section in Cuba to request visas. Taken from “Voice of America.”
20 January 2015