New Mexico-Cuba Agreement Aims at Curbing Cuban Refugee Escape Clause

Illegal immigration to the U.S. from Cuba has reached its highest level since the most recent mass exodus of 35,000 Cubans in 1994, which led to U.S.-Cuba immigration treaty. That arrangement, which basically allows upwards of 20,000 Cubans to legally emigrate from the island to the U.S. (5,000 by lottery), has been routinely violated by U.S. authorities when it comes to high visibility personalities like defecting athletes or those well connected to Cuban exile groups in Washington. With the increased use of Mexico in recent years as a transit point for near automatic entrance of Cuban refugees to the U.S., a legal friction is being eliminated by a new pact.

Over 90 percent of Cuban emigrants now reach the United States via Mexico thanks to migrant smugglers who often hijack Florida-anchored pleasure crafts and use them to illicitly smuggle economic refugees from Cuba to Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Those who evade immigration controls are rarely later apprehended or deported. In most cases, they are given transit permits by Mexican authorities that allow them to reach the U.S. border, where they are routinely allowed entrance.

Under the 1995 immigration strategy of U.S., codified into an immigration measure known as the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, it was mandated that Cubans who reach U.S. territory are entitled to legal residency. For that reason, an increasing amount of the U.S.-bound traffic has been initiated through Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, thus avoiding the massive border controls in Florida, and then to the U.S. border, where detainees are normally held on illegal entry charges for only a few days before being allowed into the country.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol estimate that a total of 11,526 Cubans were intercepted trying to enter the United States through Mexico in fiscal 2007, almost twice as many as in fiscal 2005. Also, 2,861 Cubans were intercepted crossing the Florida Strait, according to U.S. Coast Guard figures. It’s clear that these figures are the result of the unilateral U.S. policy “wet foot, dry foot”, under which Cubans discovered in the sea, can be returned to their Country. However, once they reach U.S. territory they can apply for legal residency in this country. The figures of illegal Cuban migrants entering via Mexico have now reached the 1.000 per month figure, making it the preferred route to the U.S. for these class refugees.

The Cuban foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque, has reached an important agreement with his Mexican counterpart to return illegal Cuban migrants currently in the country, and crack down on human trafficking coming from the island. The minister also insisted that “Mexico and Cuba are victims of this policy that promotes illegal immigration from Cuba,” referring to the US immigration program which implicitly encourages illegal Cuban migration to the U.S. by treating them in a manner entirely different from the treatment accorded to any other migrant group in the world, particularly when it comes to the short order given to the hapless would-be Haitian refugees. This is a direct result of both the Clinton and Bush administrations pandering to Cuban exiles in order to obtain Florida’s electoral votes in U.S. presidential elections.