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State Dept. Admits To Rubio It’s Done Nothing To Discourage Cuban Migratory Crisis Airlifts

Apr 26, 2016 | Press Releases

Administration also says it “is not entertaining any idea of a change to the Cuban Adjustment Act”

Washington, D.C. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, today continued to press State Department officials from the Obama Administration regarding the Cuban migratory crisis currently taking place in Central America. Rubio made his comments during a hearing he chaired on the President’s FY 2017 State Department budget request.

“[H]ave we pronounced ourselves against these airlifts, whether it’s the one that Costa Rica did or the one Panama is now doing?” asked Rubio. “Because the minute the word gets out that if you can get into this country, they’re going to put you on a plane and fly you close to the U.S. border so you can get in, you’re encouraging more people to do this. So have we said to them, ‘Do not airlift people?’ I mean, we have significant potential leverage with these countries.”

After Rubio asked his question a third time, Francisco Palmieri, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, responded, “We have not told them not to do the airlift, sir.”

A partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below. A video is available here and a broadcast quality video available for download is available here.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, D.C.
April 26, 2016

Senator Marco Rubio: “I just have one more question, Mr. Palmieri, I wanted to ask you. There’s been a significant uptick in the number of Cuban migrants. Just, for example, from October of last year through February, so just a five month period, 18,500 Cubans arrived at the Texas Laredo field office.

“We’re also getting kind of similar reports from the Coast Guard. They say since October of last year, 2,700 Cubans have attempted to enter the U.S. by sea.

“But what’s more concerning is the number of people, we talked about this briefly last week at another hearing, coming in I think through Ecuador and Panama and Costa Rica. And if you read the press reports, some of these governments, their body language or attitude is, ‘We’re gonna put them on a plane and fly them as close as possible to the U.S. border so they can cross in.’ In essence, ‘We don’t want this problem.’ This is a major developing issue here and much of this upsurge has occurred since the deal.

“What is driving this new migration? What is our position towards those countries that are talking about moving these people? I mean their attitude is, ‘Our job is to kind of facilitate them, get them through so they can get to the U.S., which is where they want to go.’

“Second, are we confronting that attitude that they have? And third, what is the best way to stop this?”

Mr. Francisco Palmieri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at U.S. Department of State: “Thank you for that question, Senator.

“The engagement with the countries in the region focus is on encouraging them to ensure safe, legal and orderly migration. 

“Much of this migration is undocumented and irregular as it passes through the Central American region. 

“There is no question that earlier this year Costa Rica and Panama worked with the government of Mexico and did airlift almost 8,000 Cuban migrants from both countries to the northern part of Mexico, where they crossed into the United States.

“Costa Rica took the step at that time of making clear that after that backlog was addressed that they were going to be more aggressive in enforcing their immigration laws and returning people to their last point of origin. We now see an additional backlog of these migrants in Panama, and there is now, at least as reported in the press, talk of another possible airlift between Panama and Mexico. 

“We continue to urge the countries to enforce their migration laws, to strengthen their border controls, and to address undocumented and irregular migration by returning people to their last point of origin. 

“We think that is the best way to prevent the flow.”

Rubio: “Well have we pronounced ourselves against these airlifts? I mean, have we pronounced ourselves against these airlifts, whether it’s the one that Costa Rica did or the one Panama is now doing?

“Because the minute the word gets out that if you can get into this country, they’re going to put you on a plane and fly you close to the U.S. border so you can get in, you’re encouraging more people to do this. So have we said to them, ‘Do not airlift people?’ 

“I mean, we have significant potential leverage with these countries.”

Palmieri: “We have worked with all three countries to ensure that they are going to strengthen their border controls and put in place better mechanisms to prevent this undocumented and irregular …”

Rubio: “That’s future, but what about the current backlog? Have we told them, ‘Do not airlift these people?’ ”

Palmieri: “We have encouraged the countries in the region themselves to figure out the best solution to this surge of migration, and we believe the best solution is stronger enforcement of their own immigration laws.”

Rubio: “But we haven’t told them not to do the airlift?”

Palmieri: “We have not told them not to do the airlift, sir.”

Rubio: “What is driving this? I mean, Cuba’s repressive, they’ve been repressive for 60 years, what’s the difference now? Is it the fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act is going to go away that’s driving people to try to get in here before it goes away?”

Palmieri: “We have no plans to change the Cuban Adjustment Act at this time, Senator. There continues to be a large migration flow out of Cuba. It reflects the difficult economic and human rights conditions in the country.”

Rubio: “I understand that the administration has no plans to advocate for a change in the Cuban Adjustment Act, which was an act of Congress. But my question is, is there a fear…  What I hear is that people in Cuba think the Cuban Adjustment Act might go away now that the situation’s been normalized, so they’re trying to get into the U.S. before that happens.”

Palmieri: “I don’t know. I can’t comment directly on the individual motivations of these Cuban migrants, but I can make clear that the Administration is not entertaining any idea of a change to the Cuban Adjustment Act, and so that shouldn’t be a factor in their decision calculus.”