US vows no policy change on migrants
Washington will not change its “wet foot/dry foot” policy in the foreseeable future, U.S. Embassy officials said Monday, countering speculation among Cubans driving recent illegal emigration from the island state.
Meanwhile, local officials said some of the 37 refugees who landed on Cayman Brac at the weekend may seek political asylum.
“Some have given an indication that they would like to apply for asylum,” said Gary Wong, deputy chief immigration officer. He declined to specify numbers, however, saying only “it is fewer than three or four.”
“We have to be very careful about this,” he warned. “If word gets back to Cuba,” it could spark further departures in greater numbers.
Speaking to the Cayman Compass, a senior U.S. embassy official in Jamaica said January’s twice-annual Havana-Washington migration talks, staged in the Cuban capital this year, had addressed rampant rumors that Washington was on the verge of ending its 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, and attendant 1995 wet foot/dry foot policy – which allows any migrant reaching U.S. shores to remain and, after one year and one day, to gain a “green card,” and apply for permanent residence.
Havana has long sought changes in the policy, which officials claim drives illegal emigration from Cuba and illegal entry into the U.S.
The embassy spokesman told the Compass, “We don’t anticipate a change in that policy. We have been having these migration talks for multiple years, and there will be no change to the policy.”
At the weekend, a 37-person boatload – including eight women – of Cuban migrants landed on Cayman Brac. The arrivals boosted to 44 the number of illegal immigrants now detained at the 70-person-capacity Immigration Reception Centre adjacent to HMS Fairbanks women’s prison in Fairbanks Road.
“All 44 are being processed accordingly,” Mr. Wong said. “We will comply with the [Memorandum of Understanding].”
The 10-point April 1999 Havana-George Town MOU details protocols for processing refugees, including identification, detention and repatriation. Asylum claimants are subject to a series of intensive interviews as officials seek to separate “economic” migrants from “political” migrants seeking shelter from persecution by Cuban authorities.
Between 2011 and late 2014, immigration authorities interviewed 115 claimants, peaking at 42 in 2013. Only one of the 115 was granted asylum.
In January, 88 Cubans passed through Cayman Brac, eclipsing 2014’s 24 per month average and 2013’s four per month. Since late January, more than 75 Cuban migrants have passed through or landed on Cayman Brac, not including last weekend’s 37 arrivals.
Both Cuba and the Cayman islands have sought to amend the 1999 MOU, but have been unable to set a date to complete the talks that started in the autumn. Diplomats had initially hoped to complete negotiations by the end of 2014, but unresolved issues and scheduling problems have interfered.
“I haven’t heard anything,” Mr. Wong said of new discussions.
In late January, Director of the North America Department of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry Josefina Vidal – Cuba’s chief negotiator in talks with the U.S. – said local authorities had found multiple people with fake documents seeking to touch base on American soil.
“Cuba,” she said, “aspires to a normal relationship with the United States in the broadest sense, but also in the area of migration,” as U.S. delegates pointed out that, despite President Barack Obama’s Dec. 17 executive act, dramatically expanding U.S. contacts with Cuba, any changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy required an act of Congress.
After the December announcement, however, illegal departures from Cuba spiked significantly as human traffickers spread rumors of U.S. policy changes, sparking new individual efforts to flee the country and boosting prices for a boat off the island to between US$8,000 and US$10,000.