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Three Cuban-American congress members lead effort to revive Cuban Refugee program.
Three Cuban-American congress members lead effort to revive Cuban Refugee program. Photos: Getty Images

Three Cuban members of Congress send letter to Biden admin to resume Cuban refugee program

Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart, María Elvira Salazar and Carlos Giménez sent the letter on Tues., Oct. 18.

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On Tuesday, Oct. 18, three Cuban-American members of Congress from Florida, Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart, María Elvira Salazar and Carlos Giménez, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, over the possible revival and resumption of the Refugee Admissions Program in Cuba (USRAP). 

Signed by President Joe Biden, The 2022 Presidential Refugee Admissions Determination had Cuba along with a handful of other countries and regions to allow them to regularly process applicants in their home countries. 

Refugees generally have to be outside their countries to be processed by USRAP. Cuban refugees were part of a quota of 15,000 for the Latin American and Caribbean region as part of a global peak for the period of 125,000 in 2022. 

The letter says that "refugees in Cuba have not been able to take advantage of this program for four years at a time of increasing repression on the island and in particular, as a result of the historic protests of July 11, 2021, when many activists they have been imprisoned, abused, harassed and persecuted for exercising their basic rights.” 

The three Florida officials also say that many pro-democracy activists have gotten prison sentences for decades in addition to their families having also suffered different forms of persecution. Also in the letter, it reveals that the regime has no concerns about taking advantage of family relationships to silence those in disagreement. 

“As a result, the signatories would anticipate a growing number of refugee claimants in response to the repressive escalation,” the letter warns. 

A Cuban citizen must show that they belong to one of the following groups in order to be eligible: members of persecuted religious minorities, human rights activists, former political prisoners, recruited in forced labor schemes (1965-1968), persons deprived of their professional credentials or subjected to other disproportionately harsh or discriminatory treatment as a result of their perceived or actual political or religious beliefs or activities.

“We believe that the same reasoning applies to Cuban nationals who face persecution from inside their island prison, as well as those who request it elsewhere,” the three wrote about their concern for the four-year pause of the refugee program, after its initial suspension, and more than a year after the protests of July 11, 2021 in Havana. 

“Therefore, we request information on the plans regarding this important lifeline for those escaping the crushing oppression that the dictatorship inflicts on the Cuban people,” the letter concluded. 

Back in 2018, the Trump Administration was responsible for the initial halt on the program after dozens of diplomats reported health problems and decided to reduce staff at the embassy in Cuba to a minimum. 

In September, the U.S. Embassy in Havana announced that it would resume all immigrant visa services in Cuba and expedite the processing of Cuban family reunification in the new year.

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