U.S. relaxes immigration rules to reunite Cuban families
WASHINGTON – The Bush administration said Friday it will relax immigration rules for a limited number of Cubans, focusing largely on reuniting families who have relatives in the United States.The policy shift comes nearly two weeks after Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s surprise handoff of power, to his brother, Raul, for health reasons. It aims, in part, to pressure his regime into giving Cubans official permission to head to the U.S. through safe and legal travels.The administration sought to discourage a mass migration from Cuba through dangerous waters, warning that those who try to sneak into the country face having their visa applications canceled or rejected.The new rules were first reported by The Associated Press earlier this week.”We urge the Cuban people to stay on the island, so that they may work for their freedom and a democratic society,” Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Michael P. Jackson said. “We discourage anyone from risking their life in the open seas in order to travel to the United States.”But, he said, “if a Cuban chooses to reunite with their family in the United States, we support a safe, legal and orderly migration.”The Homeland Security Department oversees U.S. immigration policy.The new rules are being considered three months before elections in which Florida’s governorship and at least one House seat in Florida are considered to be in play. Many Cuban immigrants live in the state.The new policy seeks to:-Reunite families by allowing U.S. residents to apply for expedited parole – legal entry into the country – for close relatives in Cuba. This would speed the immigration process for an estimated 10,000 Cubans who are waiting for U.S. visas to join families in the United States. The Cuban government, however, would have to agree to issue exit visas for people headed to the United States.-Discourage human smuggling operations from picking up Cubans at sea by allowing U.S.-based relatives to get information on their whereabouts. Currently, federal authorities are not supposed to release specific information about migrants who are picked up at sea.-Give Cuban doctors who have gone to other nations – and their families – more access to immigrating to the U.S. after undergoing background security checks. According to the documents, the Cuban government sends medical professionals to developing nations “as a foreign policy tool.” The administration also is considering expanding this benefit to other professions.-Refuse U.S. entry to Cubans, or deporting those who are already in the country, who are found to have committed human-rights abuses on behalf of the Castro government.In another immigration policy shift, the Homeland Security and State departments pushed back – but only by a week – an end-of-the-year deadline for requiring passports or other tamperproof documents from travelers entering the United States through airports and from boats.Proposed Friday, the new regulations would take effect Jan. 8, 2007, giving people time to adjust after the travel-heavy holiday season. After that date, all airline and maritime travelers – including American citizens – will need passports or a small number of other secure documents to get in the country.The current deadline is Jan. 1, 2007, and the new rule would be approved by this fall.By Jan. 1, 2008, all travelers entering the U.S. – by air, sea and land – must meet the documents requirements. Congress is considering delaying that deadline for 17 months as the U.S. and Canadian governments grapple with ensuring fast traffic flow across their shared border.
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