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The US Migration Policy Towards Cubans Essay Sample

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The US Migration Policy Towards Cubans Essay Sample


The diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States depicts an intense period of confrontations and protracted tensions. When Fidel Castro took over power on January 7th, 1959, the bilateral relationship with the United States has not been very smooth.  Cuban president has been defiant enough not to purge to US demands for relinquishing his Marxist-Leninist ideologies.  When he took over power he has been determined enough to pursue a retrogressive policy against the US by persecuting followers of the former regime. US had no option but to allow these political exiles through her borders. The question of the Cuban migration has shaped the policy of United States from as early as 1950s to date (Knight, 1990). The US policy towards Cuba has had its share of challenges with those opposed to the move terming it as a plan by the US to infringe on the sovereignty and legitimacy of Cuba. It is an issue that will not escape current debate now and in future and will continue to draw mixed reactions across the political spectrum. (AILF, 2003)

Sources and Methodology

In this study, both primary and secondary sources were used.  The main primary sources include primary researches that had been prepared through field date collection process, although there was a problem in accessing such primary material. However the bulk of the research resources came from secondary sources. The following were the source used for the study;

  1. The Cuban Foundation Policy (2003) has appeared more than 400 times in print and televisions across the globe after the organization was founded in 2001.
  2. The US Foreign Policy by Scanlan (2003) is published on the Latin American Studies internet journal is the most detailed account of the changing US foreign policy towards Cuba from 1959 to the 80s. The analysis is most relevant to the research topic.
  3. Maura (2002) presents an explicit account of the various migration patterns ranging from the Airlift to the Mariel boat. It is published by the Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004 and has gained international recognition earning it space to be advertised on Google Book Search.
  4. Department of State (2000) is the official site of the government foreign relations and information from this site represent the views of the US government.
  5. Martin (2004) work is published on the Latin America Studies site, an umbrella body that has done analysis in diverse issues relating to Cuban migration crisis. Martin is a member to the board.

US-Cuba migration Policy 1960-1962

The relations between United States and Cuba changed drastically during the 1960s. In October 1960, the United States instituted an economic embargo on Cuba and cut her diplomatic relations following Castro declaration of Cuba as a Marxist Leninist country in 1961. This declaration made the United States to launch Operation Mongoose targeting high ranking politicians in Cuba. In 1962, Cuba allowed Soviet missiles onto her soil which degenerated into the Cuban Crisis (Cuba Policy Foundation, 2003)

Over 800, 000 immigrants from Cuba had migrated to the United States between January 1959 and October 1980. The period between 1959 and the 1960 was characterized by strained tolerance on the part of United States towards Cuba. These hostilities have really polarized the diplomatic relations between United States and Cuba. For instance in 1960, Eisenhower, the then President of the United States cut down sugar imports from Cuba. After protracted provocation from Fidel Castro, the United States closed her embassy in Havana in 1961. By this time Cuba had started to build her relations with the Soviet Union.

A total of 125,000 Cuban exiles arrived in the US between January 1959 and the April 1961.  The US migration policy towards the Cuban immigrants between 1959 and 1960 was favorable compared to other immigrants. These led to the proliferation of Cuban in Florida who arrived without proper documentation. For political reasons, the United States at this time softened its stand towards the Cubans and relaxed admission rules including waiving the requirement that all immigrants must prove their employment status before admission. Further the federal government considered the Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs) for sponsorship. This passive migration policy had the following salient features:

  1. The consular office operated in Cuba until January 1st 1961 which gave out visas in hurried manner.
  2. The Cubans who were arriving by boat were not  denied entry by the Coast Guards
  3. For the Cuban immigrants whose visas had expired, their stay in the United States was extended by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) instead of facing deportation (Scanlan, 1983)

These liberalized immigration policy by the United states towards the Cubans were partly applied on grounds of political affiliations and humanitarian considerations.  This lax migration policy was necessitated by the execution policy pursued by Fidel Castro but it also allowed those who had not been implicated by the Cuban President. The Batistianos were the first to arrive then other Cuban exiles followed. The political exiles were a real privileged lot in Cuba. The Sierra Maestra veterans also came to the United Sates for fear of execution. Commercial airliners operated between the United States and Cuba during this dispensation of favorable migration rules. Fidel’s threat of execution made the United States to adjust her policy to allow Cuban immigrants despite discontent that it allowed a mass exodus of disaffected Cubans. However certain circumstances fueled tensions between the United Sates and Cuba. Among them was when Americans living in Cuba started facing executions and trials, the heightened fear of a communist ideologies, skewed nationalization programs and land reforms that infringed on American economic interests and Cuba’s decision to forge ties with the Soviet Union. Fidel Castro started anti American policies and sentiment especially after the explosion of La Courbe in Havana harbor. (Bender, 1993)

The United States started military training of Cuban exiles for an anticipated invasion on Cuban administration. The CIA was reportedly behind the scheme dating back to the time of President Richard Nixon. In 1959 the CIA was transporting Cubans into Florida. President J. Kennedy took over this plan from Eisenhower that Fidel could only be ousted through aide from Cuban exiles. This would help them return to their mother country. It was believed these plan softened American federal policy towards the Cubans averting fears that they were potential permanent residents. Come December 1960, the Cuban Refuge Emergency Center was launched in Miami Florida followed by the Cuban Refugee Program in January 1961. Under this program Cubans were admitted at the Cuban Refugee Emergency Center in Miami. A Cuban was termed as a refuge if he had entered United States after January 1959 with legally identification issued by the INS under parole status, student, permanent resident or possessing indefinite voluntary departure status (Scanlan, 1983)

This migration status extended to Cubans was termed as temporary and referred to fleeing Cubans as exiles. The Cuban Refugee Program had two objectives: welfare benefits extension to Cubans and to resettle them from crowded Florida to other states.

Cubans agreed to be resettled elsewhere in the United States on the condition that the administration granted an assurance that they will not lose their opportunity to return to their motherland. This proved to be a little bit challenging to the government at the time. These concerns were communicated to the president through Tracy Voorhees, the man behind the Eisenhower program. As a result only 13,122 exiles had registered with the Cuban Refugee Center (CRC) in Miami out of about 125,000 Cuban exiles and a paltry 2,011 had been successfully resettled in the United States.

The foiled Bay of Pigs during the Kennedy administration resulted into major shifts in the US policy towards the Cubans. It was characterized by exile politics with promises of repatriation. The promise of repatriation was revisited in the light of growing fear of an increasing exile community. The administration contemplated closing the border with Cuba to curtail further exile entrants given that about 1500 to 1700 Cubans were arriving in the US per week. This move was not taken seriously by the Kennedy administration and Cubans continued coming to America at a more accelerated rate. The defeated Bay of Pigs left nearly 100 Cuban exiles dead and another 1200 at the mercy of Fidel’s Castro army.  President Kennedy’s speech on April 20th 1961 dubbed “The Lesson of Cuba” shaped American policy towards Cuba for the preceding 13 years. The CIA greatly interfered with the affairs in Cuba right to the Nixon era. The CIA funds were channeled to the Cuban refugees up to May 1963, after which the contribution to the Cuban Revolutionary Council was ended. However radical anti-Fidel’s exiles continued to get US government support for another 10 years. These radicals are said to have masterminded the bombing of 1976 Cuban airliner that left 73 dead (Scanlan, 1983)

 Nevertheless, the Bay of Pigs resulted in remarkable changes in its policy towards Cuba especially with the emerging concerns that supporting the exile Cubans might result into a drawn out permanent state in America. A new legislation was recommended on July 21, 1961 by President F. Kennedy and passed on June 28th 1962 which legalized aid assistance to Cuban refugees. After the failed Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile Crisis, the US Foreign policy had two primary objectives: to institute a democratic framework with necessary reforms in the Cuba’s economic and social sectors in order to improve the lives of Cubans and to prevent Castro’s communism advances. In order to fulfill the first objective the Alliance for Progress was formed by President Kennedy (Ackerman, 1996).

The Second objective was addressed through US commercial and diplomatic sanctions to every country in the Hemisphere including Cuba’s business partners in Europe. These were aimed curtailing a possible spread of violence and subversion by the Cuban regime, to show that the communism has no place in the Western Hemisphere and to deal a blow to the communist Soviet Union. The period between 1962 and 1974 was characterized by the policy of economic denial between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban refuges were used as vehicles to fulfill US agenda. America imposed a trade embargo on Cuba and instituted tougher restrictions on travel by persons holding US passports. The Organization of American States (OAS) foreign ministers voted in January 1962 to sideline Cuba from participating in future talks (Scanlan, 1983).

The Cuban Airlift

The Airlift was after the failure of Camarioca boatlift. The Camarioca boatlift failed due to bad weather and lasted only 6 months. The Cuban Airlift was also referred to as “Freedom Flights”. It was initiated by the American government and lasted for seven years. This operation saw more than 260, 000 Cubans airlifted to the United States making it the largest in US history.  This Cuban Airlift culminated into1966 enactment of the Cuban Adjustment Act by the Congress.  This act favored the Cubans over other immigrant groups in the United States. The act made is possible for the Cuban immigrants to be naturalized after staying in the United States for a period of one year and one day while the other immigrants were subjected to a period not less than 5 years (Maura, 2002)

The Act applies to any immigrants or citizen of Cuba after having been inspected, accepted or paroled into the United States from 1st January 1959.  This preference system allows Cubans to qualify for employment visas and also bring their siblings to the United State.  Cubans who are under the threat of execution are allowed to apply to migrate to the United States in Havana. This act referred to Cubans as political refugees and therefore granted them political asylum and gave them a permanent status without a review (Department of State, 2000)

As a result an economic boom came into Miami.  From the mid 70s and the end of 80s, over 25,000 businesses had been opened by the Cubans besides employing about 250, 000 people (Maura, 2002)

Mariel Boatlift

Mariel Boatlift had a significant impact on US/Cuban policy. The regard for very Cuban migrant as a refugee started to disappear.  The reason was that Mariel Boatlift resulted into increased Fidel’s hostility towards America. Concerns were emerging that the Cuban migrants had lost its political luster given the fact that the large number of exiles were going to cause a strain in the labor markets and that these immigrants mainly dependent on aid. And therefore Congress thought that money spent on these resettlement programs would have been better spend on other beneficial programs on the poor in AMERICA. These led to a renewed perception of the US policy on Cuba after arguments that it had instead pushed Cuba into deeper financial problems and that Cuba was not such a big threat to the Western Hemisphere ideology. These knew perspective in policy become characteristic of the Kissinger’s Administration. Nixon-Kissinger took a dramatic turn and sought to establish good policy relations China and Russia, a major shift from the politics of the cold war. This new direction in policy had impacts on US-Cuba relations.

The Secretary of State, William Rodgers underscored the changing perception towards Cuba during an address to the OAS assembly. Sol Linowitz, Johnson’s advisor to the Latin America, said that there was no threat in the hemisphere by Cuba.  Soviet Union had also used pressure to oust the Castro regime, took and about turn. As a result the diplomatic relations between Cuba and other Latin American states improved.  In 1970, the Cuban government insisted that other countries behave independently of US decision to isolate her.  These series of events lead to the collapse of US dominated isolationist policy and Cuba opened up trade and economic links to other states in the hemisphere.  She also requested other Europeans nations to forge commerce with her. Cuba’s global contacts grew expeditiously in the 1970s. Hubert Humphrey urged that the assembly of OAS reconsider their sanctions on Cuba.  Senator Mansfield pioneered a plan to forge US-Cuba Relations.

Similar stands were taken by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee members. Soon in 1971, civil society groups threw their weight behind the bandwagon calling for normalization. The business fraternity was not left out either; they urged the Congress to forge commercial relations with Cuba. The debate was picking momentum and became a heated issue through the 1972 presidential campaigns with Democrats underscoring the very need for arresting the growing stalemate on mutually acceptable grounds. The Kissinger’s administrations become more focused on the foreign relations than the internal affairs of Cuba with the aim of accommodating Cuba.  Cuba and United States in 1973 signed an anti-hijacking pact. The agreement made in unlawful any person who promotes or participates in a move that damages an airplane or any other vessels. In July 1975 OAS sanctions ended. But the United States said that her policies with Cuba will take into account policies Cuba makes with other nations including the military ties with states beyond the hemisphere (Scanlan, 1983)  

The 1994 Rafter Crisis

The Rafter Crisis saw more than 230,000 Cuban immigrate to United States of America. The Clinton Administration responded to the any-one-can-leave policy by Fidel Castro and guaranteed entry of about 20,000 Cubans per year into the United Sates. After Mariel, Cuba had requested to be allowed to send 50,000 immigrants per year to the United States, but had earlier been denied by the Carter Administration.  In 1994 and 1995 the US-Cuba migration accords were signed which ended years of illegal departures from Cuba making it possible for about 35,000 Cubans to be released from Guantanamo bay. 230,000 Cubans received visas over the next decade. The US also instituted a lottery system to allow Cubans to migrate to the United States raising serious concerns over the looseness of the US-Cuba immigration policy (Martin, 2004)

Post 1995

Under the May 1995 companion agreement, Cubans who captured by the seas and the Guantanamo Bay were returned to Cuba. It also stipulated that those interdicted in the operation were to be punished for this offence. The US Interest Section keeps watch to ensure that these provisions are adhered to. After the signing of the migration accords to facilitate a safe and organized migration in 1995, US relations with Cuba become worse in 1996. Two planes belonging to the US wee brought down by the Cuban Military that left 4 US nationals dead which lead to the passage of the Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act or the Libertad Act. This act entrenched the trade embargos into statutory law and institutes more sanctions on the Cuban government.  The present policy on Cuba has two objectives: mounting pressure on the Cuban regime through the Libertad Act and trade embargos while still giving philanthropic assistance to Cubans and foster the growth of civil society movement in the state.

It is focused on improving the human rights condition in Cuba and rallies behind efforts to reinstate Cuba to the OAS government (Staten, 2003).  US policy towards Cuba will largely depend upon the initiative the government of Cuba takes towards democratization and development in that country. The US will not condone the illegal narcotic trafficking and drugs transshipment from Cuba. Equally the US the will not relent in her efforts to pursue fugitives that have found a save haven in Cuba. The Office of the Cuban affairs further underscores the US dedication towards realizing a harmonious relationship with Cuba.  Among the available programs that Cubans can use to the US include the Special Cuban Migration Program, immigrant visas and the refugee admissions.  The United States admits about 3500 refugees from Cuba through the US Interest Section in Havana. (Department of State, 1999)


These patterns of US policy towards Cuba will continue to define future policies between the two countries. More migration from Cuba is expected amid well founded fears that this will adversely affect US immigration in the coming decades if history is anything to go by. The Cuban crisis is a very complex situation attracting formidable views from the political divide and no doubt it will remain a controversial issue for this century. However it’s imperative to note that the United States had done what is humanly possible to give a hope to the millions of Cuban nationals than any other country in history. The legislation have been favorable enough to the desperate pleas of Cubans and such noble causes must be applauded  by any one who puts the rights of humans at heart. The success of future policies towards Cuba will largely depend on the willingness of United States to listen to Cuba and the resolve of Cuba to drop her anarchies against her own citizens.


Ackerman, H. (1996). Mass migration, nonviolent social action, and the Cuban raft exodus, 1959-1994: an analysis of citizen motivation and international politics. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Miami

AILF, (2003). Cuban Migration: Averting a Crisis. Retrieved 26th March 2009 from http://immigration.server263.com/index.php?content=B030602

Bender, L. (1993). The Cuban Exiles: An Analytical Sketch. Journal of International Relations, Vol. 23

Cuba Policy Foundation, (2003). US and Cuba Relations. Retrieved 26th March 2009 from http://www.cubafoundation.org/policy-2.html

Department of State, (1999). US-Cuba Relations. Retrieved 26th March 2009 from http://www.state.gov/www/regions/wha/cuba/policy.html

Department of State, 2000. The Cuban Adjustment Act. Retrieved 26th March 2009 from http://www.state.gov/www/regions/wha/cuba/cuba_adjustment_act.html

Knight, W. (1990). The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism.
New York: Oxford University Press

Martin, N. (2004). Rafters helped open entry door. Retrieved 26th March 2009 from http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/exile/entry-door.htm

Maura, Isabel, Toro-Morn & Marixsa Alicea, (2002). Migration and Immigration. Greenwood Publishing Group

Scanlan, J & Gilbert Loescher (1983). US Foreign Policy, 1959-1980: Impact on Refuge Flow from Cuba. Retrieved 26th March 2009 from http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/exile/impact.pdf

Staten, L. (2003). The History of Cuba. Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations.
Westport: Greenwood

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