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  • Writer's pictureLauren Jessop

Weaponized migration suspected cause of increasing numbers of Cubans at border

Earlier in the month we wrote about the increasing number of Cubans showing up at our southwest border and were able to point to an event that most likely is the cause of it. That cause is the result of a series of other more serious events between countries, and it seems the purpose is to target the United States using weaponized migration.

Cubans are fleeing a bad economy and an authoritarian regime, and in the past, they have traveled as far as South America to find an overland route to the U.S. border. It is complicated by the fact that many countries have visa requirements that narrow their travel options.

In November, the Nicaraguan government dropped its visa requirement for Cubans, affording them the ability to fly to the capital city of Managua to either settle there, or use it as a shortcut to the United States, which many do. The important part is the reason for the change in policy, which we will get to later on.

As we previously reported, the change in Nicaragua’s visa policy coincided with a steep increase in Cubans crossing the Rio Grande beginning in December and continuing through January 2022.

In fact, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) has updated their statistics since, and the number of Cubans encountered went from 9,720 in January to 16,550 in February, a marked increase.

The current mass migration event is being compared to the 1980 Mariel boatlift, when Cuban President Fidel Castro reversed his closed emigration policy for a period of five months and 125,000 Cuban exiles set off in boats for Florida’s shores. That exodus was driven by a stagnant economy that had been weakened by a U.S. trade embargo, not unlike what is happening currently.

Back in July 2021, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wrote an article for the Washington Examiner in which he said, when things in Cuba “get really bad, the regime decides to use the lives of thousands of Cubans as blackmail. It threatens to send 50,000 innocent Cubans in boats to America if the sanctions are not lifted.”

Rubio said the tactic has been used before, referencing the Mariel boatlift and the 1994 Cuban raft exodus, also known as the Balsero crisis, when 35,000 Cubans emigrated to the U.S. via makeshift rafts over a five-week period.

Following rioting in Cuba in 1994, Fidel Castro announced that anyone who wished to leave the country could do so without hindrance, and fearing another major exodus, then-President Bill Clinton announced that any rafters intercepted at sea would be detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Over 30,000 were held for almost one year before being granted permission to legally immigrate to the U.S.

This led to a policy initiated by the Clinton administration known as “Wet foot/dry foot,” which meant that Cuban migrants intercepted at sea were returned to Cuba or resettled in a third country, and those who made it to U.S. soil were able to request parole. If approved, they obtained lawful permanent resident status under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Cubans began traveling through South and Central America, and then on to Mexico and the border of the U.S.

On January 12, 2017, the Obama administration ended the Wet foot/dry foot policy, citing recent changes in the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba and the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations. A joint statement was signed obligating Cuba to accept the repatriation of its nationals who arrived in the U.S. after the date of signing.

In June 2017, President Donald Trump reinstated restrictions on U.S. travel and business dealings, until certain conditions regarding freedoms and free and fair elections were met. In addition, a few months later we withdrew most staff members from our embassy in Havana in the wake of mysterious health issues encountered there.

Between the sanctions and pandemic-related travel restrictions, Cuba’s tourism industry was shut down, severely damaging the economy.

Large protests broke out in July 2021 as Cubans became fed up with high prices and food shortages. As many have pointed out, when things get to a boiling point, the leaders of these countries start releasing people in order to take the pressure off.

This happens in Mexico also, after thousands of migrants bottle up at their southern border awaiting paperwork that allows them to travel through the country, on their way north to the U.S. The migrants become impatient, start protesting, and threaten to form caravans.

We recently reported on a scheme exposed by Todd Bensman from the Center for Immigration Studies, on what he calls “ant operations.”

Things got very tense in Tapachula after the Mexican government held migrants back for a few months in what Bensman says is an attempt to appear cooperative with the Biden administration. They issued tens of thousands of migrants QR code visas and put them on buses in small groups headed to various parts of the country in order not to draw attention to them.

The difference in the case of Cuban migrants is the speculation that this is a coordinated effort between Cuba and Nicaragua.

The Havana Times said the November move was unexpected and fed the suspicions of those who see Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s “open policy towards Cuba a way to help his colleague, Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel, by providing an escape valve for the pressure cooker that Cuban citizens are living in.”

Cuban activist Antonio Rodiles is quoted as saying he thinks this complicity between Nicaragua and Cuba could be a response to President Joe Biden’s foreign policy. The latter did not renew the more open policies towards Cuba that Barack Obama initiated during his term in office. Rodile also said he notices that the immigration conflicts between Cuba and the United States have always occurred when the Democrat party was in power.

According to Univision, a Spanish language news outlet, veteran analysts in Cuba say “it has all the makings of a well-tried Cuban government strategy to create an escape valve for mounting political pressure on the island.” Some are saying it appears to be “diplomatic blackmail” by Ortega and Diaz-Canal in retaliation for U.S. sanctions against their “widely repudiated regimes.”

On July 13, 2021, in response to the unrest in Haiti and Cuba, which many people were already speculating could lead to waves of irregular migration, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas made a comment at a press briefing that sounded like an unofficial revival of Wet foot/dry foot.

“If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States … Any migrant intercepted at sea, regardless of their nationality, will not be permitted to enter the United States,” Mayorkas said, making no mention of illegally crossing the border by land.

At the time Sen. Rubio wrote about the issue, he had no idea there would be a change in Nicaragua’s visa policy, or that it would set off a mass exodus of Cubans that would be adding to the chaos at the southwest border, but his statements still apply.

“There can be no room for ambiguity here. If the Cuban dictatorship triggers a mass migration event and threatens the lives of thousands of its own people in such a perilous process, it should prepare for a commensurate response to protect those Cubans’ lives, Rubio said.”

“That is the message Biden should have sent the day the Cuban protests began. It’s also the message that the administration should have sent to Central America as innocent people rushed our southern border, and it’s the message Biden needs to send for any intentional mass migrant event going forward.”

Rubio said that all of these events put thousands of people’s lives at risk, and they will have direct repercussions for people in the U.S. well.

The DHS has announced a new rule that would improve and expedite the processing of asylum claims which involves authorizing asylum officers within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They hope to decrease the backlog of cases and eventually be able to hear and decide cases within several months, as opposed to the several years it currently takes.

The number of illegal aliens that will get to remain in the country while waiting for their immigration hearing will most likely increase as Title 42 expulsions are expected to be ending shortly, and although the Remain in Mexico program has been reinstated, it is not used frequently.

Originally published on Citizen Stringer, March 25, 2022

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