Eight Latin American governments on Monday joined Costa Rica in calling on the United States to end its special treatment for Cuban migrants.
The Ecuadorean foreign minister delivered a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry signed by the foreign ministers of the eight countries and Costa Rica in expressing their “deep concern” that U.S. policy toward Cuban migrants is creating a humanitarian crisis and encouraging “a disorderly, irregular and unsafe flow of Cubans.”
“Cuban citizens risk their lives, on a daily basis, seeking to reach the United States,” the letter says, according to excerpts forwarded by Ecuador’s embassy in the United States. “These people, often facing situations of extreme vulnerability, fall victim to mafias dedicated to people trafficking, sexual exploitation and collective assaults. This situation has generated a migratory crisis that is affecting our countries.”
The letter was signed by the foreign ministers of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.
State Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This situation has generated a migratory crisis that is affecting our countries. Nine Latin American governments
The countries have been caught up in the drama of record-breaking Cuban migration. More than 46,500 Cubans were admitted to the United States without visas during the first 10 months of the 2016 fiscal year, according to the Pew Research Center. That figure compares with more than 43,000 in 2015 and just over 24,000 in 2014.
Several of the countries found themselves caring for thousands of stranded Cubans who were stuck at their borders or in the interior after running out of money to continue the journey.
Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told McClatchy in an interview last week that the issue has cost his country millions of dollars it doesn’t have and has raised complaints from Costa Ricans about spending resources on stranded foreigners when they were needed by the nation’s own citizens.
“The difficulties between the U.S. and Cuba has a direct consequence on other countries in our region that serve as transit,” González said. “And we are, in a way, paying the consequences of that bilateral relationship.”
The difficulties between the U.S. and Cuba has a direct consequence on other countries in our region that serve as transit. Foreign Minister of Costa Rica Manuel González
The nine signatories say the “main cause of the current situation” is the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who reach American soil to remain in the United States, even if they arrived without legal documentation. The signatories say revising the act would be the first step toward addressing the worsening crisis.
They have called for Kerry to attend a “high-level meeting” to review the issue.
“It is time for the United States to change its outdated policy for Cuban migrants, which is undermining regular and safe migration in our continent,” said Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Guillaume Long.
John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that Kerry had received the letter and said the U.S. was continuing talks with the nine governments. He called on the countries to respect the human rights of migrants and asylum-seekers.
“Irregular migration often involves dangerous journeys that illustrate the inherent risks and uncertainties of involvement with organized crime, including human smugglers and traffickers, in attempts to reach the United States,” Kirby said.
The Obama administration has also been encouraging the countries to enforce their own immigration requirements and send undocumented Cubans back to Cuba. But Cuban activists worry that that policy will only encourage Cubans to instead flee the island on dangerous ocean voyages to reach Florida.
The number of Cubans making the sea trip has nearly doubled in the past two years, Coast Guard statistics show.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with State Department content.