AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced a new immigration policy ostensibly designed to deter illegal immigration, but which dramatically expanded the number of asylum seekers the U.S. would accept each month. In addition to failing to do much of anything to stem the tide of border crossings, Biden’s policy has provided a new tool for the communist Cuban regime to silence their political opposition.
Migrant encounters in FY2022 topped 2.76 million, breaking the previous annual record by more than 1 million. Encounters for FY2023 have already crossed the 1.5 million mark, and are on pace to shatter 2022’s record. Even these figures are a drastic understatement of the current border catastrophe.
After denying that the crisis existed for most of the first two years of his presidency, Biden attempted a rhetorical about-face on the issue in January, announcing that border agents would begin turning away Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans who cross the border from Mexico illegally. This policy was an expansion of a similar decree from October of last year aimed at Venezuelan migrants.
However, both policy changes came with the caveat that the administration would dramatically expand the number of asylum seekers it admits each month – in the case of Venezuelans to 24,000 per month, and in the case of Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans to 30,000 per month.
For Biden’s team, the policy must have seemed like a political win-win. Open borders advocates would be pleased with the expanded number of asylum entries, while the president could pretend to be cracking down on illegal immigration.
Ultimately, however, neither win has materialized. Illegal border crossings have continued to skyrocket and Biden remains deeply underwater on public approval for his handling of immigration, while even many Democrat politicians have criticized him for imposing any restrictions at all on illegal immigration.
There is one entity, however, that has undoubtedly benefited from Biden’s new policies: the communist regime of Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel.
For Canel and his lieutenants, the expanded asylum program is a convenient opportunity to force political prisoners, opposition leaders, and their supporters to immigrate to the United States. By removing their greatest threat from the island – with an assist from the Biden administration – the regime is securing its dominance over the Cuban people.
In order to expedite this process, Cuban authorities are withholding medical aid from many prisoners and housing them in utterly inhumane conditions. In doing so, they are crossing all moral and ethical red lines, betting that the Biden administration will not act or speak out against them – a bet that has thus far proven correct.
Biden’s Department of Homeland Security even hosted Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, in Washington last week for what U.S. officials called a “productive meeting” on deportation flights. Neither side discussed the humanitarian abuses by the Cuban government against the Cuban people.
The Cuban regime has now even resumed the practice of going after the families of opposition leaders in order to coerce them into fleeing. In one case that made the rounds on social media last week, photos showed plain-clothed government agents kidnapping the 7-year-old daughter of Marisol Pena Cobas, a senior opposition member.
According to a report from March, there are at least 1,066 political prisoners currently being held by the Cuban regime, including 34 minors. The youngest was a 12-year-old boy.
However, despite the intense persecution, many Cuban opposition members are determined to stay and fight for their country. The leaders of some of the most high-profile groups, including the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and Ladies in White, an organization which connects wives and daughters of political prisoners, many of whom are serving prison sentences themselves, are courageously resisting and setting a powerful example for others.
One such leader is Sayli Navarro, a Ladies in White activist who is currently imprisoned in the Matanzas Women’s Prison for participating in pro-freedom protests in July 2021. Despite government officials trying to coerce her to go into exile in the United States, she has reiterated her staunch resolution to remain in Cuba.
“After 11 months, my decision did not change one iota,” she said. “My father and I have the right, like all Cubans, to freely choose between leaving and staying in prison. We decided not to go even though it meant continuation of the sentence.”
Sayli Navarro and her 69-year-old father, opposition leader Félix Navarro Rodríguez, were sentenced to 8 and 9 years in prison, respectively, for participation in anti-government demonstrations.
According to a Cuban priest who spoke on the condition of anonymity, in recent weeks more than 20 other political prisoners have similarly chosen jail in Cuba over asylum in the United States.
This example has been repeated in other countries as well. On February 10, Nicaragua’s regime sentenced Roman Catholic Bishop Ronaldo Alvarez to 26 years in prison for supporting the anti-communist opposition. The day before his imprisonment, Alvarez refused to board a flight to the U.S. with more than 200 other political prisoners. Since then, more than 50 other opponents of the Nicaraguan regime have chosen prison over exile.
These courageous acts are further strengthening a growing movement against communist regimes in Latin America. The respected Cuban Conflict Observatory counted 372 spontaneous public protests in Cuba in March of this year alone. The report notes the reappearance of graffiti with slogans such as “Down with the dictatorship,” “Castro’s Assassins,” and “No to Cuban Communism” in Central Havana and in the squares near the University of Havana.
Additionally, Cubans have protested the country’s sham elections by returning blank or invalid ballots or remaining at home entirely, resulting in strikingly low turnout as a sign of resistance.
However, Biden’s recent immigration policy changes threaten to undercut much of this progress. Instead of an ally in Washington, Cuban freedom fighters are suddenly finding an incompetent administration that is playing right into the hands of the regime.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.