Thesis: Cubans Seeking Asylum in the US

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Deportation of Cubans Immigrants Seeking Asylum

Theoretically, the United States provides asylum to refugees fleeing from restrictive governments. Because Cuba is one of the few nations that America considers hostile, one would anticipate that the United States would almost rubber-stamp asylum for Cubans fleeing to the United States. However, that assumption would be incorrect. The United States routinely deports Cuban refugees. There are a variety of reasons that the United States deports these refugees, such as failure to establish the need for political asylum. In today's climate of virulent anti-immigrant attitude, there is considerable pressure from Americans to deny refugee status to many people, including Cubans. However, it is important to note that America does not face pressure from the international community to return political refugees to Cuba. On the contrary, the "United States has signed the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, which means that it is obliged not to return refugees to their native countries." (Refugee Law Center). More significantly, "the United States is obliged to carry out part of its global responsibility for refugees because of its affiliation with international conventions and agreements." (Refugee Law Center). However, the reality is that the U.S. does return Cuban refugees to Cuba, despite the potential consequences that these refugees, who will almost certainly be considered dissidents under Cuba's restrictive laws, merely for trying to escape, face when returned back to Cuba.

One of the quirks about the United State's asylum program for Cubans seeking refugee status is that it oftentimes bases the decision of whether or not to grant amnesty based on how the refugee came to be in the United States. U.S. policy has generally allowed "Cubans who reach U.S. territory to stay, while turning back most caught at sea." (Olson). This policy is referred to as the wet foot-dry foot policy, and it has actually been made law. "The policy, formally known as the U.S. Cuba Immigration Accord has been written into law as an amendment to the 1996 Cuban Adjustment Act. (Morley). What is most significant about this is that, if the Coast Guard is able to intercept refugees, the United States basically refuses to grant them asylum, even if it determines that they meet the qualifications of a political refugee: "Cubans intercepted at sea are interviewed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service which decides whether they have a well founded fear of persecution and are thus eligible for asylum in a third country. If not, they are repatriated to Cuba." (Morley).

Basically, what the wet-foot dry-foot policy has done is encourage refugees to take land-based routes into the United States, such as coming up through the Mexican border. The problem with that policy is that Mexico has developed into an "increasingly violent and heavily used human trafficking route," largely because the U.S. Coast Guard has stepped up patrols near Florida and routinely deports Cubans caught at sea. (Olson). As a result, Mexico has agreed to deport Cubans caught in Mexico, hoping to provide a disincentive to people choosing to be smuggled into the U.S. via Mexico. While Cuba and Mexico both agreed to respect the human rights of these immigrants, that promise seems questionable. There was no indication of whether or not Mexico would grant political asylum to refugees claiming political persecution. (Olson). Moreover, Cuba's record of human rights abuses is well-documented, giving rise to serious doubts regarding its intentions to the immigrants.

One of the problems facing Cubans seeking asylum is a growing willingness by other American nations to minimize Cuba's problems. In fact, the Organization of American States (OAS) recently considered the issue of whether or not to lift Cuba's suspension from the OAS. Cuba was suspended from participation in the OAS because its communist government seemed incompatible with American sensibilities. However, a growing number of countries have become friendly with Cuba, sighting improvements in its human rights record. They claim that other American nations suffer from similar problems with democracy as Cuba, and that Cuba's problems are substantially similar to the problems faced by other countries. However, that simply is not true:

Cuba is the only country in the region that represses nearly all forms of political dissent. For decades, the Cuban government has enforced political conformity using criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, physical abuse, and surveillance. This abysmal record has not improved since the handover of power from Fidel to Raul Castro. (Vivanca).

In addition, Cuba has demonstrated that it is unwilling to allow the OAS to dictate human rights standards. On the contrary, rather than addressing the substance of alleged human rights abuses, Cuba has continuously rejected the validity of the OAS. These human rights are notable and are frequently politically motivated. For example, in 2003, Cuba prosecuted 75 journalists, labor leaders, and human rights defenders, 54 of whom were still in jail as of June 9, 2009. (Vivanca). Moreover, people who planned to protest the jailing of these activists were targeted for persecution by the Cuban government. (Amnesty International). In addition, Cuba has repeatedly failed to cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council, despite joining it in 2007. In fact, in February 2009, Cuba denied that it had any political prisoners, despite the fact that it is well-known that Cuba does. This demonstrates an unwillingness to recognize its own human rights abuses.

In order to understand why refugees are fleeing Cuba, and what they risk when being deported back to Cuba, one must understand the types of routine human rights abuses that exist in Cuba. Cuban law grants the state "extraordinary authority to penalize individuals who attempt to enjoy their rights to free expression, opinion, press, association, and assembly." (DeCosse et. al). Even more significant than that is the fact that Cuba's laws have become more restrictive in recent years, rather than less restrictive. "The Cuban Criminal Code lies at the core of Cuba's repressive machinery, unabashedly prohibiting nonviolent dissent." (DeCosse et. al). Furthermore, Cuban law actually "tightly restricts the freedoms of speech, association, assembly, press, and movement." (DeCosse et. al). This is significant. In many countries, political prisoners are held on trumped-up charges, because the countries' laws do not actually restrict these basic freedoms. However, in Cuba, these things are outlawed, so that the government does not have to trump up charges to convict people for opposing the current political regime. Moreover, to those in power in Cuba, the charges are not trumped up and the prisoners are not political prisoners, because the laws are quite clear in the type of behaviors that they restrict. However, Cuba's laws are also sufficiently vague to allow prosecutions for thoughts, based on a person's dangerousness.

Furthermore, once someone has been detained for a crime in Cuba, the criminal justice system really begins to work against them. First, the state has an inordinately long period of time in which to inform the detainee of the charges against him. In addition, the detainee is not informed of the right to an attorney until after an arraignment. Furthermore, the right to an attorney is largely illusory, because Cuba does not have an independent bar association. On the contrary, all of its attorneys are basically government attorneys, leaving dissidents particularly vulnerable when facing criminal prosecution. (DeCosse et. al).

Moreover, the consequences of being convicted can be very dire. Cuban prisons are notoriously inhumane:

Most prisoners suffer malnourishment from an insufficient prison diet and languish in overcrowded cells without appropriate medical attention. Some endure physical and sexual abuse, typically by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards, or long periods in isolation cells. Prison authorities insist that all detainees participate in politically oriented "re-education" sessions or face punitive measures. In many prisons, authorities fail to separate all of the pretrial detainees from the convicts and minors from adults. Minors risk indefinite detention in juvenile facilities, without benefit of due process guarantees or a fixed sentence. (DeCosse et. al).

Of course, not all prisoners in Cuba's prison system are political prisoners, and there are many who would suggest that violent offenders deserve the type of confinement that they endure. However, it is important to note that "Cuba's political prisoners encounter problems unique to their status as nonviolent activists, often for holding views contrary to the government's or for criticizing human rights violations in the prisons." (DeCosse et. al). Political prisoners must participate in political re-educate or face punishment, are punished for denouncing human rights abuses, and have their visits with their family restricted. (DeCosse et. al). Furthermore, "Prisoners' relatives also face government intimidation outside the prison walls." (DeCosse et. al). In addition:

Many Cuban political prisoners spend several months to more than a year in pretrial detention, often in isolation cells. Following conviction, they face additional punitive periods in solitary confinement. The government also crushes free expression inside the prison walls with criminal charges and prosecution of previously convicted prisoners who speak out about inhumane prison conditions and treatment. (DeCosse et. al).

What the foregoing discussion has made clear is that current U.S. policy… [END OF PREVIEW]

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