Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Coast Guard's problem

While the rest of us talk about immigration policy, the Coast Guard has the job of carrying it out.

The Wall Street Journal (link here, h/t Babalu) reported yesterday on the situation the Coast Guard confronts in the Florida Straits when alien smugglers on speedboats try to evade interdiction.

It’s easy to criticize the Coast Guard for using force, which it does as a last resort by shooting to disable a speedboat’s engine. And it’s especially easy to do so when people have died aboard those boats, as the Journal reports.

But this is the era of homeland security with a clamor to control our borders. The smugglers carrying passengers from Cuba often refuse Coast Guard orders to stop for an inspection. They are carrying illegal migrants, and who knows what else, from a country that – as candidate Fred Thompson points out – is supposedly a state sponsor of terrorism.

It is no surprise that the smugglers disobey the law and refuse to stop, considering that they have hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake in each voyage, and they face possible prosecution for alien smuggling if they are caught. At that moment, the safety of their human cargo, which became their responsibility once they took the people on board, is the last thing on their minds.

The President could announce that any migrant intercepted at sea can come to the United States, and any vessel found en route will be allowed to continue to U.S. shores. But that could provoke an exodus, a crisis in the straits, and more deaths at sea. I doubt President Bush is looking for a new international crisis, and while candidates may make promises, I doubt any President would change current policy once he or she reaches the Oval Office.

(Speaking of candidates, can anyone confirm a rumor I heard that Rudy Giuliani promised to end wet foot-dry foot while campaigning in Hialeah last week?)

In spite of the fact that the United States gives 20,000 immigrant visas a year to Cubans, many do not want to apply and their family in America is happy to pay a smuggler, notwithstanding the risk, because a migrant that reaches land is allowed to stay.

Under the 1994 migration accords, the United States committed to return Cubans who come via alien smuggling and other “irregular” means, as the State Department explained in 1995:

Cubans who reach the United States through irregular means will be placed in exclusion proceedings and treated as are undocumented migrants from other countries, including being given the opportunity to apply for asylum.

If the United States were to make good on that commitment, it would deal a heavy blow to the alien smuggling business. But neither the Clinton Administration nor the current one has carried it out, for obvious reasons.

So U.S. policy being what it is, and Cuban domestic policies being what they are, giving so many Cubans a desire to leave, the saga in the Florida Straits will continue, with the Coast Guard assigned to deal with it.

1 comment:

leftside said...

I don't blame the act of disabling an engine for this accident. Ultimate blame for accidents (in Cuba or US waters) rests with the US refusal to obey the migration accord you cited, which creates additional temptations and incentives (sustaining the smuggling industry) as well as the smugglers who refuse to stop.

What I found particularly troubling in this tragic case, is that Coast Guard's rescuers spent a half hour verifying that the injuries to the dying woman were indeed real (asking about it 7 times). They spent another hour and a half trying to figure out what to do with her and boating her to shore, rather than using the helicopter circling overhead (giving multiple, conflicting reasons as to why). The 2 hour wait for treatment was a main reason she died.

Now imagine if Cuban authorities acted the same way, worrying for 30 minutes about political/immigration implications of helping a dying patient.

Any Cuban who has a real asylum case can bring it to the USIS and get handled that way. All the rest of migrants are economic migrants like anyone else from the Carribean trying to make it to the #1 economy in the world.

Using desperate Cubans who risk death as political pawns to score points against Castro is stomach turning. If the American people knew that Cubans get treated better than a legitimate Iraqi refugee from war and that 1/3 of our refugee budget goes to Cubans -they would be shocked.