White House Heralds Resumption of Cuban Ties, Hopes for Warmer Relationship
Jan 27, 2015
Houston, TX (Law Firm Newswire) January 27, 2015 – On December 17, President Obama announced that the United States would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and will open an American embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years.
The surprising change in U.S. foreign policy portends an open dialogue between the erstwhile Cold War enemies, but it is less clear how the resumption of relations will impact Cuban immigration policy.
The president has also signaled that he wants to lift the 54-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. But a shift in trade policy would require cooperation from a Congress that has long been resistant to ending the embargo, an aversion that intensified after Republicans captured control of the Senate and expanded their majority in the House in the November midterm elections.
The U.S.-Cuban detente will also impact immigration, or more specifically, the special status that Cuban immigrants enjoy under the Cuban Adjustment Act. That law, which was enacted in 1966, grants Cubans who arrive in the United States an almost guaranteed path to legal residency and eventual citizenship.
In an attempt to set foot in the United States and qualify for residency, many Cubans have risked perilous journeys on rafts across the 90-mile watery expanse separating Cuba from Florida.
Cuban immigrants have been known to attempt entry into the United States via Mexico, and those who have been caught crossing the border are shielded from the expedited removal process — deportation without a hearing — by presenting proof of their nationality. The legal underpinnings for this policy emanate from the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which states that those people attempting to immigrate to the United States from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Washington are exempted from the expedited removal process.
With diplomatic ties restored, the legal and political rationales behind such protections may fade, a fact that has many Cubans worried. However, the same Congressional wariness that could keep the Cuban trade embargo in place makes the discontinuation of the Cuban Adjustment Act just as unlikely.
“The fact that politics had a hand in crafting a provision of the Immigration and Naturalization Act pertaining to expedited removal should come as no surprise,” said Annie Banerjee, a prominent Houston attorney who specializes in immigration law. “Nor should the likelihood that politics will play a role in keeping the Cuban Adjustment Act on the books.”
Even before the president’s announcement, tangible changes were observed in the immigration relationship between Cuba and the United States. The U.S. Interests Section, which handles American consular affairs in Cuba, approved more than 33,000 non-immigrant visas for Cubans to visit this country last year, a 99 percent increase. And the process for obtaining such visas has become considerably faster, shortening from an average wait time of 57 months in 2012 to five months this year.
“The significantly shorter wait time for Cubans seeking a non-immigrant visa is an example of how bureaucratic logjams on immigration can be quickly eased if there is a change in policy,” Banerjee said. “However, on a macro level, immigration reform still faces long odds due to the unfavorable political environment.”
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