US, Cuban discuss migration as COVID border controls to end

A woman walks out of a bank in Havana, on Apr 11, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

WASHINGTON — US and Cuban officials discussed migration issues on Wednesday as the Biden administration braces for the end of COVID-era border restrictions that have blocked Cubans in recent months from crossing into the United States from Mexico.

The high-level meeting in Washington followed one held in Havana in November and comes a year after the Democratic administration of US President Joe Biden resumed migration talks after a long hiatus under former President Donald Trump, a Republican seeking reelection in 2024.

The US embassy in Havana resumed full immigrant visa processing and consular services in January for the first time since 2017 in a bid to stem record numbers of Cubans trying to enter the United States from Mexico

The US State Department offered few details about the latest discussions, saying in a statement the talks "highlighted areas of successful cooperation on migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles."

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The head of the Cuban delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, said beforehand that "extreme and inhumane measures" have hurt Cuban livelihoods and spurred emigration, a reference to the US economic embargo of Cuba and other sanctions.

Asked about the accusation, a State Department official stressed that the embargo is enshrined in congressional law and includes exemptions for exports of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods heading to Cuba.

The US embassy in Havana resumed full immigrant visa processing and consular services in January for the first time since 2017 in a bid to stem record numbers of Cubans trying to enter the United States from Mexico.

After Biden adopted more restrictive border security measures in January, the number of Cubans and other migrants caught at the border plummeted.

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However, the Biden administration is preparing for a possible rise in illegal crossings with COVID restrictions at the US-Mexico border set to lift on May 11.