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Cuba and the United States Clash Over Immigration Policy during Historic Talks

Cuba and the United States recently discussed immigration policy during high level talks on Jan 21. The US continues to offer a safe haven for Cuban nationals with added protections, many of which are usually denied to people from other nationalities. The Cuban government contends that the policy encourages medical practitioners to defect to the US and claims that it is a “reprehensible brain drain practice.”

While ongoing talks have helped to restore diplomatic ties between the two countries, Cuba in particular has objected to the immigration policy adopted by the United States government. As per the Cuban Adjustment Act, more than 25,000 individuals were welcomed into the country without visas in 2014 alone.  On average, 20,000 Cubans are provided with visas each year.

The US government has vowed to continue following the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which means that Cuban nationals who are stopped at sea by law enforcement officials are returned back to their homeland but those who manage to set foot on US soil are granted permission to stay.

In 2014, the US government intercepted more than 3,700 boats at sea, which was double of what was observed in 2012. During the talks, Cuban officials protested that this policy promotes human trafficking and encourages illegal immigrants to undertake dangerous voyages across the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida coast on poorly maintained boats.

Even though both sides hold wide differences of opinion on several immigration issues, the countries describe the talks overall to be collaborative in nature. Alex Lee, a State Department official who led the talks for the US immigration team, said, “We explained to the Cuban government that our government is completely committed to upholding the Cuban Adjustment Act, that the sets of migration-related policies that are colloquially known as wet foot/dry foot very much remain in effect.”

The two days of talks on immigration was the first meeting between the two countries since December 17, when Cuban President Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties. The fruitful negotiations between both countries allowed the US to finally remove the 53 year trade embargo against its Cold War adversary. The US delegation was led by Roberta Jackson, who incidentally became the first US Assistant Secretary to set foot in Cuba in over 38 years. It remains to be seen how the two countries can work around immigration issues in the coming months.

If you or someone you know would like legal counsel regarding immigration issues, please contact the immigration attorneys at Lyttle Law Firm in Austin, Texas today. You could also call us directly at 512-215-5225.

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