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Could US immigration law regarding Cuba be about to change?

Even as immigration reform makes its way through Congress, bilateral meetings were held this week between the United States and Cuba on resolving some long-term immigration issues between the two countries. Currently, U.S. immigration law, specifically the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1987, is enforced using what is often referred to as the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, meaning that Cuban immigrants who actually set foot on U.S. territory before being intercepted are allowed to stay, while those caught by either government while attempting to migrate are returned to Cuba.

The government of Cuba objects to the policy, believing that it encourages Cuban citizens to attempt to leave the country illegally, which both violates the law and puts them at substantial risk on the high seas.

A major purpose of the talks was to address the continued, although slowed, unauthorized migration of Cubans to the U.S., and especially the paid smuggling of those immigrants. According to members of the Cuban delegation, representatives from each country reviewed the progress made on potential immigration accords between the two nations, assessed the actions each party had taken to halt unauthorized migration and trafficking in Cuban emigrants, and evaluated the principles at stake.

Unfortunately, that review and evaluation doesn’t seem to have led to any major policy proposals. While making clear they valued the respectful tone of the talks, the Cuban delegation said that U.S. immigration law, particularly the “wet foot, dry foot” policy continues to be a stumbling block.

“[T]he smuggling of emigrants will not be eliminated,” Cuban diplomats have said in previous talks, “nor will legal, safe and orderly emigration between the two countries be able to be achieved while the 'wet foot, dry foot' policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act are maintained.”

Nothing in these talks appears to have shifted the issue, but Cuba repeated its commitment to continuing the discussions, as it recognizes their importance to both countries.

In other words, Cuba is willing to talk, and the U.S. is willing to talk back. Public opinion here has largely shifted away from an anti-communist focus, so it’s entirely possible that U.S. immigration law and policy could be changed toward Cuba in the foreseeable future.

Source: Fox News Latino, "Cuba pursuing immigration dialogue with U.S.," EFE, July 17, 2013

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