Hundreds of Cubans arrive in the US illegally every year, many through third countries, or by making the perilous journey from the island to Florida via the Florida Straits. The Caribbean island nation has been under a US economic blockade since 1962.
The refusal by the US Embassy in Havana to issue immigration visas to Cubans incentivises illegal and potentially dangerous forms of migration from Cuba to the US, the Cuban Foreign Ministry has announced.
“Among the factors that constitute incentives for irregular migration are the suspension of the processing and granting of immigrant and non-immigrant visas at the United States Consulate in Havana,” the ministry said in a statement Friday, pointing out that Washington has failed to comply with its commitments to grant a minimum of 20,000 migrant visas per year.
The ministry promised that Havana would continue working to stop irregular, unsafe and disorderly migration.
The statement comes in the wake of increasing illegal migration attempts, including a recently publicised incident involving a US-bound vessel originating from Cuba capsizing near the Bahamas earlier this month with over a dozen people onboard. 12 of the would-be migrants were rescued by a Royal Bahamas Defence Force ship, with person perishing and several others going missing – including women and two children. Some of the boat’s passengers were reportedly left floating in the water for over 14 hours before being rescued.
In early 2017, then-Cuban President Raul Castro and outgoing US President Barack Obama signed a joint declaration on immigration matters aimed at reducing dangerous illegal immigration, stopping human trafficking and halting the granting of automatic asylum and residence status to Cubans who make it to US soil. Since then, direct migration has dropped to about several hundred per year.
The Trump administration moved to reverse the Obama-era Cuban-US rapprochement, introducing new sanctions and import restrictions, blocking humanitarian aid, increasing deportations, and nixing the entry of would-be migrants from third countries. After taking office in 2017, he also cut down staff at the Havana Embassy to a skeleton crew, and moved consular services to Guyana. In January 2021, just days before leaving office, Trump put Cuba back on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The Biden administration has been urged to reverse Trump-era policy on Cuba, and confirmed in January that a “review” would take place.
However, no further announcements have been made, and US rhetoric about “support for democracy and human rights” and using Americans as “ambassadors for freedom in Cuba” have led to concerns that decades-old US policy of seeking to overthrow the island’s communist government will continue under Biden.
Cuba-US relations have also been marred in recent years by claims that the island nations’ government has used “microwave attacks” against the US Embassy in Havana. Cuba has denied the claims, and promised to cooperate in any US investigation.
US border services have reported a surge in illegal immigration in President Biden’s first months in office, with detention facilities filled to capacity and large numbers of unaccompanied minors entering the country via the border with Mexico. Last week, Mexican government sources told Reuters that Biden’s reversal of Trump’s hardline illegal immigration policies has resulted in people being turned into a “commodity” by gangs engaged in human trafficking.