No Immigration Deal in Historic Meeting First between Cuba, US

Cuba continues to demand changes to U.S. immigration policy that the island says encourages illegal and perilous emigration.

Cuba and the United States met Wednesday in Havana for the first of high-level meetings organized with the aim of restoring diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The meeting, which described as constructive, dealt mostly with issues related to migration, with Cuba demanding changes to the so-called wet-foot / dry-foot policy and the repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“These continue to be the primary stimulus for illegal emigration, the trafficking of emigrants and irregular entries of Cuban citizens to the United States via third countries,” said Josefina Vidal, director-general for the United States at the Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations.

The Cuban Adjustment Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, grants permanent residency an any Cuban national who resides in the U.S. for a year. Meanwhile, the wet-foot / dry-foot policy dictates that any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil will be granted residency, whereas those caught offshore are returned to Cuba.

Despite Havana’s objections, the Americans vowed to continue granting Cuban immigrants special status that allows nearly every Cuban reaching U.S. soil to remain in the country, while nationals of other countries are deported if they arrive under similar circumstances.

Gustavo Machin, an official with the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations, said that the two countries “agreed to disagree” but that the meeting was productive and both parties spoke openly and with a constructive outlook.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Obama defended the rapprochement with Cuba in his annual State of the Union address Tuesday.

“We are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date. When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new,” Obama told Congress, shortly before calling for an end the economic blockade.

That change would require an act from the U.S. Congress – an unlikely event with the legislature currently under the control of Republicans who oppose Obama’s plan to restore ties with Cuba.

Cuba is also demanding to be removed from the list of countries designated as “state sponsors of terrorism” that denies the country access to international credit. U.S. officials stated that the change is already “in process” and could be finalized before full diplomatic relations are restored.

Wednesday’s talks were held as part of biannual meetings organized by the two countries to discuss topics related to migration. The meetings will continue on Thursday, where they will be joined by Roberta Jacobson, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America.