White House

Cuba steps up campaign against U.S. immigration policies

Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands during their meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, in April 2015. Cuban officials recently have called on the United States to do more to discourage migration to the United States.
Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands during their meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, in April 2015. Cuban officials recently have called on the United States to do more to discourage migration to the United States. AP

The Cuban government has never liked the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who reach the United States to remain, but it’s stepping up its campaign against it as it struggles to hold onto human resources it considers crucial to the island’s economy.

In recent days, Cuban officials have called on President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to end the controversial wet foot, dry foot policy and to cut off the professional medical parole program that has led thousands of doctors and medical professionals, trained, for free, in Cuban universities, to flee to the United States.

The Cuban government made its latest demand via Granma, the Cuban government’s newspaper, where officials accused the United States of maintaining policies and laws that encourage illegal migration and violate migratory agreements between the two countries.

“Born in the times of the Cold War, its goal remains to destabilize the country,” the Granma article stated.

Born in the times of the Cold War, its goal remains to destabilize the country.

Granma, Cuba’s state-run newspaper

It is only the latest appeal by the Cuban government in recent weeks as the country looks to protect resources amid an economic slowdown that’s largely the result of the crisis in Venezuela.

State workers have had their hours reduced and some neighborhoods have reported blackouts as the country faces energy losses due to decreasing oil shipments from Venezuela.

Doctors are another critical revenue-earner for the Cuban government, which loans medical professionals out to other countries in return for oil, commodities and cash.

“They’re providing doctors to other countries and getting something in return,” said Gregory Weeks, editor of the academic journal The Latin Americanist. “If those doctors find it easy to come to the United States, then that is something that Cuba just loses. In the context of economic slowdown, they can’t afford to lose those people.”

The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which started under President George W. Bush in 2006, has approved more than 7,000 applications, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Cuban government has likened the program to theft and a direct attempt to upend the island government. Since 1963, Cuba has sent medical teams abroad not just for humanitarian reasons, but also for money. Almost 132,000 doctors have worked as “internacionalistas,” according to Granma. Currently, more than 50,000 Cubans are working abroad.

In the context of economic slowdown, they can’t afford to lose those people.

Gregory Weeks, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

The complaints are not new, but Weeks says the government has intensified its pressure on the Obama administration to do more during the final months of Obama’s presidency. Weeks said the Cuban government may also be concerned about losing engineers and other non-medical professionals that the government has invested in via the U.S. wet foot, dry foot policy, which grants U.S. entry to any Cuban who reaches dry land.

Since the U.S. and Cuba reestablished relations, the numbers of Cubans leaving the island have surged to record levels, in part because of fear that the U.S. will alter policies that give Cubans special immigration benefits.

During the first 10 months of fiscal year 2016, 46,635 Cubans entered the U.S. via ports of entry, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by the Pew Research Center through a public records request. That’s higher than 2015’s total of 43,159, which was 78 percent higher than 2014, when 24,278 Cubans entered the U.S.

Earlier this month, Cuban deputy foreign minister Abelardo Moreno told reporters in Havana that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to resolve claims over U.S. corporate and personal property taken by Cuba until the United States lifts the trade embargo.

And last month, on the one-year anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Emilio Lozada, the Cuban ambassador to Russia, accused the Obama administration of not doing enough to dismantle the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and accused the United States of trying to turn Cuba into an “appendage” of the United States.

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