The opening of relationships between Cuba and the U.S. changes the dynamics that have been in place for over 50 years of tensions. The dictatorial regime of the Castro brothers is still in power, and Cuban society is not yet free and open, but the increasing frequency with which Cubans are visiting the island shows a clear break with the past.
This is why it is necessary to modify the legal framework that has shaped the relationship between the two countries since the Cold War. Immigration and trade laws and regulations do not correspond to today’s reality.
This incongruity is clearly evident in the new Cuban exodus that is keeping thousands of people stranded in Mexico and Central America. Most of them want to take advantage of the generous conditions granted by the U.S. through the Cuban Adjustment Act and the Wet Foot, Dry Foot policy before the rules change. Ironically, hundreds of these undocumented Cubans have already been welcomed into the country with open arms while Salvadorian mothers and children are being deported.
The laws that currently apply for Cubans ‒ which quickly grant them social benefits and residency after just a year and a day of being here ‒ were designed to aid political refugees. Press reports have repeatedly demonstrated how many people benefit from abusing this system by claiming to suffer from political prosecution in Cuba while traveling to and from the island, and even live there for periods of time. Seeking to correct this abuse, Cuban-American Representative Carlos Curbelo has introduced proposition H.R.4247.
The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 is yet another measure that should be struck down. The law, also known as the Helms-Burton Act, requires Cuba to pay thousands of millions of dollars ‒ interests included ‒ to U.S. companies that were expropriated by the Cuban Revolution before relations can be normalized. This is a topic that is currently being discussed by both countries and an obstacle that, after more than 5 decades, demands a clean slate.
Normalizing the relations between Cuba and the U.S. will take time. One way to move forward would be to dismantle a legal framework that, by now, is an antique from the old days.