Obama ends asylum programs, in final shot to freedom in Cuba


Just last week, the Cuban government arrested Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and Cuban opposition leader Dr. Oscar Biscet. He was threatened with imprisonment for his anti-government activities.

That would be nothing new for Biscet. He has already spent 12 years behind bars as a political prisoner. And he would have plenty of company. The regime arrested more than 10,000 dissidents last year alone.

{mosads}Despite the oppression, the continuing violations of human rights, the Obama administration has spent the past two years attempting to convince the American public that the Cuban government has changed its ways.


The military dictatorship that has not held free and fair elections for over 50 years, we are told, merits moral equivalency with the democracies in Latin America. As for supporting freedom 90 miles from our shores? Well, that’s passé.  

That is the essence of President Obama’s normalization gambit: To treat the regime as an equal despite all evidence to the contrary.  As a result, the U.S. has legalized business dealings and financing mechanisms for the regime, even though Congress maintains the trade embargo.

Now Obama has turned his flawed perspective to U.S. immigration policy for Cuban nationals. Eight days before leaving office, he has terminated the 1995 Clinton-era “wet foot, dry foot” policy as well as the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program.

According to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson:

“The aim here is to treat Cuban migrants in a manner consistent to migrants who come here from other countries . . . equalizing our immigration policies . . . as part of the overall normalization process with Cuba.”

From a law enforcement perspective, this last minute respect for immigration law is puzzling. Obama’s contempt for our immigration system has allowed waves of unlawful migrants to move in through our porous southern border and protected “sanctuary cities” where criminal aliens roam free.  

For decades, Cuban refugees have come to the United States, fleeing persecution and availing themselves to the protection of the U.S. government. In recent years, flawed policies like “wet foot, dry foot” have created perverse incentives for dangerous forms of migration. As a result, human smuggling networks have spread throughout Latin America.  

While a revision of this policy was past due, repealing it in order to further normalization efforts hands the Cuban government another unnecessary political victory. It has long used refugees as pawns to influence the American government. Refugee crises like the Mariel boatlift of 1980 prove as much.

Ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program was nonsensical at best, and a tacit endorsement of the Cuban government’s human trafficking efforts at worst.  

Ever distrustful of non-revolutionary “professional class,” Havana has long treated physicians as commodities rather than caregivers. Many are forcibly sent abroad to developing countries; in exchange, the Cuban government collects their salary. It’s a lucrative business, estimated to pad the wallets of the junta by $8 billion a year.

Implemented under the George W. Bush administration, the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program established U.S. embassies and consuls as places of asylum for these victims of the regime.

Come January 20th, President-elect Trump will be left fix many of President Obama’s broken policies, Cuba being one of them.

His administration must quickly recognize that Cuban migrants cannot be judged by the same standards as others from Latin America. Cubans are the only people in our hemisphere who are actively persecuted and trafficked for their labor by their own government.

U.S. immigration policy must recognize the island continues being governed by a military dictatorship, a regional problem unique only to Cuba.

Trump’s administration should immediately reactivate the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. And in developing its immigration policy, it should also keep in mind that, in recent years, a growing number of Cuban nationals have exploited America’s generosity by collecting welfare benefits designated for political refugees and using those funds to travel back and forth to Cuba.

Cuban nationals should be required to prove political or religious persecution before receiving welfare benefits. And those who are granted refugee status and welfare benefits should not be allowed to travel to Cuba for tourism purposes.

Abuses of U.S. immigration policy must be stopped in order to protect legitimate victims.

Ana Quintana is a policy analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy, specializing in Latin American issues.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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