Washington meeting between U.S. and Cuba considers Cuban crisis

Costa Rica’s problem with Cuban migrants has become a topic considered by Cuban and U.S. diplomats.

U.S. and Cuban officials are meeting in Washington, as the two countries move forward with efforts to normalize ties.

Meanwhile there is some movement in the U.S. Congress to change the law that has attracted migrating Cubans in the first place.

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona has introduced a measure that would repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot, dry foot, policy. The law and the policy favor Cuban migrants who reach the United States.

“Cuban nationals should be treated under the same immigration rules as any other person seeking to immigrate to the United States,” said Gosar when he introduced the legislation, H.R. 3818.

He said he introduced a bill to terminate three outdated policies that provide amnesty to Cuban aliens and are costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

“If President Obama has normalized relations with Cuba, why would we treat illegal immigrants from that nation any different than those from other countries,” he asked.

Monday, officials held high-level migration talks at the State Department to discuss the implementation of agreements between the U.S. and Cuba.

The talks come at a time when the number of Cubans entering the United States has spiked.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency says the number of Cubans arriving at U.S. ports of entry rose from about 24,000 to more than 43,000 from 2014 to 2015.

It says while the number of Cuban migrants has been rising every year since 2009, the current trend “significantly exceeds the average increase over the past six years.”

Meanwhile from 3,000 to 4,000 Cubans are stuck in Costa Rica. Tensions increased between Nicaragua and Costa Rica last month after the Nicaraguan government refused to allow thousands of Cubans stranded at the border to enter.

A State Department spokesperson said officials were aware of

the situation involving thousands of Cuban migrants traveling irregularly from South America and Panamá northward through Costa Rica.

Many Cubans fear the normalization of ties will spell an end to the unique immigration privileges offered under the Cuban Adjustment Act.  The measure, enacted in 1966, gives Cubans a right to obtain permanent residency, once they have been in the United States a year.

Additionally, the so-called wet foot, dry foot policy allows Cubans who reach U.S. shores to remain in the country, while those who are intercepted at sea are generally returned to Cuba.

Administration officials say there are no plans to change the U.S. migration policy for Cuba.

A State Department spokesperson said a focal point of migration talks would be proposals on how both governments could contribute to fighting the smuggling organizations that take advantage of Cuban migrants.  Some Cubans have paid smugglers thousands of dollars to help them illegally travel through South and Central America to the U.S. border.

Other migrants are facing increased legal obstacles as they attempt the journey.

Earlier this month, Ecuador announced plans to add a new visa requirement in a bid to stem the flow of Cuban refugees through the country.  The move sparked protests at the Ecuadoran Embassy in Havana.

Separately, the U.S. entry policy for Cubans has been the subject of both foreign and domestic criticism.

Cuban government officials have repeatedly criticized the U.S. policy.

Josefina Vidal, director general at the Cuban ministry of foreign affairs, has said the U.S. policy has been a principal stimulus for illegal immigration from Cuba.

The migration talks in Washington are a follow-up to talks held in January in Havana.

The United States and Cuba have established working groups on a host of issues since President Barack Obama’s announcement a year ago that the two countries would move to end more than five decades of mutual hostility by working to normalize ties. As part of the process, the United States and Cuba reached milestones this past summer with the re-opening of their embassies in each other’s capitals.

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