On Friday, the Mexican government announced it would begin to regularize the status of 588 Cuban illegal aliens in Nuevo Laredo (including a grant of work permits). After the Obama administration ended the "wet foot, dry foot" policy the Cubans passing through Mexico on their way to the U.S. refused to return to the island.
It should be noted that the press release published by Mexico's National Institute for Migration (INM) erroneously equates the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) to the wet foot, dry foot policy. The wet foot, dry foot policy, which stemmed from the CAA and allowed all Cuban nationals who reached U.S. soil to be paroled into the country and receive legal status (those intercepted at sea were returned), was suspended in January. However, the CAA, which allows Cuban nationals to adjust to permanent residence after being in the United States for at least one year, remains in place. While repeal of the CAA would require congressional action, it has been rendered largely irrelevant by the executive branch decision to stop paroling into the U.S. Cubans who lack visas.
Previously, Cuban migrants illegally crossing Mexico's southern border with Guatemala would be given a 20-day safe transit permit by the Mexican government, allowing the islanders that much time either to leave the territory or regularize their stay. Then, the Cubans would use this permit to make their way north through Mexico to the U.S. border, where they would present themselves at a port of entry and be paroled into the country. Now that the United States is no longer a viable destination, the islanders have moved to regularize their stay in Mexico to avoid deportation.
Consequently, per Mexico's immigration law, the INM has moved to grant the islanders "visitor status for humanitarian reasons" and work permits. This condition of stay, under Article 52, section V (c) of Mexico's immigration law, is authorized for foreigners in the process of petitioning for political asylum, refugee status, or "complementary protection" (a different category of humanitarian status). The government may also grant this status to foreigners who do not fall under the aforementioned conditions when there is a humanitarian cause or public interest that makes it necessary for foreigners to be interned or regularized in the country, in which case they will also be granted work permits.
Friday's announcement noted that the first 273 of 588 Cubans in Nuevo Laredo would be given this status (which includes a visitor's card) within the following days. The visitor's card may be renewed for periods of 180 days at a time. As foreigners with visitor status for humanitarian reasons, the Cuban migrants may remain in this status as long as the reasons for the original grant of status continue, and in the meantime they must file the necessary renewals for their immigration document. By granting work permits to Cuban illegal aliens, the Mexican government has created another incentive for Cuban nationals to stay and may possibly attract others who might have been deterred by the policy changes in the United States and reports of Cuban deportations from Mexico's southern border.
The press release also emphasized that while the immigration law empowers the INM to carry out, in some cases, the regularization of foreigners who are located in Mexican territory and show interest in residing in the country temporarily or permanently, INM has not granted the islanders refugee status or political asylum because they are not facing persecution of any kind. However, the condition of stay offered by the Mexican government makes it possible for the Cubans to remain in the country in a legal manner.
Still, some Cuban nationals continue to hope that President Trump will welcome them into the United States. On Saturday, approximately 300 Cuban nationals protested in front of the Nuevo Laredo pedestrian bridge, asking for Trump's help. Images from the day's event show an array of signs in English and Spanish that included the following pleas:
- "Mr. Trump the Cuban people need your support";
- "Mr. Trump please help us reach freedom";
- "We want to study in free lands" (the sign was held by a young boy); and
- "President Trump, we will not be a burden for the USA of America".
According to INM statistics, there have been 385 Cuban repatriations in 2017, as of February. Of the 385 repatriations recorded, 287 were categorized as deportations, 95 as assisted returns, and three as assisted returns of minors.