Migration Policy Reform: Cuba Gets Started, U.S. Should Follow
New laws and regulations promulgated in Havana in October 2012 have overhauled and liberalized Cuban policies governing emigration of Cuban citizens, their travel abroad, and their return. While falling short of granting unfettered freedom to travel, the measures promise to eliminate restrictions that affect the vast majority of the Cuban public. The tarjeta blanca, the exit permit that has been a hallmark of communist states’ control over citizen movement, is being abolished, and foreign travel will be permitted for all passport holders. The new policies, effective next January 14, carry a risk of increasing the loss of trained and skilled personnel through emigration. But they also seem to bet on the idea that Cubans, once given the freedom to travel and to return, will indeed return in large numbers and bring important benefits to Cuba’s economy, not to mention to citizens who have long chafed at restrictions on the basic right of movement.
In United States immigration policy, Cubans receive unique and highly favorable treatment in terms of admission criteria, speed of admission, and government benefits extended even to Cubans who arrive with no visa and make no claim of persecution, and would be treated as illegal immigrants if they came from any other place. Some elements of the policy fulfill U.S. commitments in bilateral agreements that Washington and Havana entered to prevent uncontrolled and dangerous migration. Some elements violate those same agreements. Others provide ample opportunity for Cubans to gain admission as refugees. Taken together, it is a patchwork policy that lacks a central organizing concept. It has internal contradictions, and many of its elements are in conflict with U.S. policies governing migration, refugees, fiscal responsibility, and border security. A review and modernization is long overdue.