High-level US delegation visits Havana amid migration crisis

High-level US delegation visits  Havana amid migration crisis

Migrants seeking asylum in the US from Colombia and Cuba are processed by the US border patrol after crossing the border from Mexico at Yuma, Arizona, on February 18. File photo credit Reuters/Go Nakamura.

HAVANA, Cuba--A US government delegation met Cuban officials in Havana on Wednesday to discuss Washington’s concerns about irregular migration from the island, marking the highest-level known US visit since the historic rapprochement under former President Barack Obama.

  US Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Rena Bitter and US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ur Jaddou held talks with Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio at the embassy in Havana, and detailed plans to resume “full immigrant visa processing” on January 4. The moves were outlined in September.

  “This is the highest-level public visit of US officials to Cuba during the Biden administration,” a State Department spokesperson said of Wednesday’s trip to the Communist-ruled island.

  It “shows the commitment and work of the administration to create secure, safe and orderly avenues for migration,” the spokesperson added.

  Migration talks between the two countries resumed in April after a long hiatus following “anomalous health incidents” in Havana that affected a number of staff at the US and Canadian embassies, a phenomenon dubbed “Havana Syndrome”.

  The gravity of the migration crisis, spurred by a devastating economic downturn in Cuba that has led to acute shortages of food, fuel and medicine, have also forced a restart of conversations between the two long-time rivals.

  US authorities detained 220,000 Cubans at the US-Mexico border from October 1, 2021 to September 30, 2022, according to US Customs and Border Protection data, shattering records set by prior immigration crises, including the Mariel Boatlift in 1980.

  The United States wants Cuba to take back more deportees from among those arriving at the border, Reuters reported in April.

  The State Department did not immediately respond to a query on whether deportation was discussed on Wednesday.

  Cubans have also increasingly been taking to the sea, risking their lives in homemade boats to cross the Straits of Florida. Since October 1, the US Coast Guard has intercepted 1,588 migrants attempting the crossing.

  Bitter said on Twitter that she met de Cossio to discuss “expansion of consular operations in Cuba.”

  Cuba’s foreign ministry said de Cossio reiterated the importance of restoring visa processing at the embassy and Cuba’s readiness for any “necessary steps” to assist. ~

The Daily Herald

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