Despite its status among progressives as a veritable model for health care reformers and proponents of egalitarianism, the joint announcement by President Barack Obama and Cuban dictator Raul Castro of the normalization of bilateral relations has resulted in a sharp uptick in the number of Cubans desperately fleeing the island in makeshift dinghies. Who could have possibly seen this coming?
The Coast Guard is reporting an 117 percent spike in December in the number of Cubans fleeing the island nation by boat. On Monday alone, the Coast Guard returned 121 Cubans back to the custody of authorities in Havana. They were all intercepted at sea in seven separate incidents in just the past week.
“This is happening because there are rumors and fears flying throughout Cuba, even in Miami, that the immigration policy – the US immigration policy – that favors Cubans who arrive in the U.S. and set foot on U.S. soil – the so-called ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy, the Cuban Adjustment Act – is about to end,” NBC News reporter Mark Potter revealed on Tuesday.
The rumor mills indicate that this policy will be put to pasture on the very specific date of January 15. That belief is unfounded, but the protesters may not be entirely wrong. Indeed, the commentary class can barely contain their desire to see Cuban refugees’ status as privileged political asylum-seekers revoked as part of the process of rehabilitating the Castro regime. “In Washington’s overhauled Cuba immigration policy, Cubans should have the same rights as other foreign-born immigrants — no more, no less,” Reuters op-ed contributor Susan Eckstein declared on Tuesday.
These refugees don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Changes to America’s policy toward Cuban refugees must necessarily follow the normalization of relations with Havana.
Not only will the Castro regime protest a policy by their new ally that provides Cubans who flee their home country with expedited residency, they are practically forcing America to review this policy with some reforms of their own. Havana will waive the requirements that its citizens who travel abroad obtain an exit visa beginning on January 14, possibly precipitating a wave of refugees by the sea and the air.
“Starting January 14th, however, Cuba will allow them to leave by any means of their choice. And all they’ll have to do is walk off the airplane in Miami or anywhere else in the US to be awarded refugee status,” World Affairs contributor Joel Brinkley warned. “The change could lead to many thousands of new Cuban refugees every month, joining the two million Cubans and their descendants already here.”
“While the Cuban Adjustment Act is not on the government’s agenda right now, when the flood of new Cuban immigrants begins arriving next month, that is almost certain to change,” he concluded.
This, as well as the myriad other problems associated with normalization of relations with Cuba by fiat rather than a negotiated process of reform, makes you wonder if the president ever even considered the repercussions of his decision. At best, Obama now faces the prospect of a refugee crisis in Florida. At worst, a disastrous humanitarian catastrophe in the Straits of Florida is in the offing as potentially hundreds of Cuban lives are lost in the frantic effort to travel to America.
In the former case, the administration faces a diplomatic crisis with the government of Havana and may have to abandon enforcement of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which would perhaps precipitate yet another constitutional crisis in which the executive refuses to enforce settled law. In the latter case, a flood of lives lost as a direct result of poor planning on Washington’s part would be equally suboptimal. In either case, a domestic political crisis will be nearly impossible to avoid.
That’s one heck of a legacy achievement.