The number of Cubans attempting to cross the 90-mile stretch of water separating the island from the United States has risen sharply following the two governments' agreement to resume normal diplomatic relations, according to figures reported by the U.S. Coast Guard.
U.S. officials attribute the rise to rumors that as U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations resume, the United States will change its so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allows Cuban migrants who reach American soil to remain in the country.
The Coast Guard apprehended 481 Cuban migrants in the month of December, according to an article by Capt. Pat DeQuattro published this week on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations. That figure marks a 117 percent increase from the same month a year before.
The dramatic rise in migration has continued into January, with 96 apprehensions of Cubans at sea thus far, according to DeQuattro.
“Although actual U.S. policy changes regarding Cuba have not yet been announced or implemented, there is a perception in Cuba that such changes are imminent,” DeQuattro writes.
Under the 1996 Cuban Adjustment Act, Cubans who reach the United States may stay in the country and apply for permanent residence after one year. Those who are captured at sea are returned to Cuba. The Raul Castro government has long maintained that the wet foot, dry foot policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act serve as incentives for people to undertake the risky trip.
A State Department delegation will travel to Cuba this week to hold talks focusing on immigration, according to the BBC.
But Arturo Lopez-Levy, a researcher who studies the Raul Castro government, says he doesn’t expect the idea of reforming the Cuban Adjustment Act to feature prominently in the talks.
“The Cuban Adjustment Act is not a major problem in the relationship between the two countries,” Lopez-Levy told The Huffington Post. “If the Cuban Adjustment Act stopped, you won’t see a major drop in illegal immigration from Cuba. What you’ll see is the creation of another group of immigrants in the shadows. That is not good for the United States and is not good for Cuba.”
In light of the recent resumption of full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba for the first time since 1961, some members of Congress have questioned the logic of continuing the long-standing U.S. policy of embracing Cuban migrants who flee the island.
“The Cuban Adjustment Act is based on the premise that the Cuban people are fleeing tyranny and oppression,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said after the Obama administration announced the changes to Cuba policy last month, according to NBC News. “And now the U.S. government has said that we no longer consider Cuba to be repressive and a dictatorship.”