Florida Democrats introduce bill to revive Cuba’s family reunification program | Lifestyles

Congressional Democrats want to restart a federal program that reunites Cuban families in the United States, years after applications for the program halted after US government personnel in Havana fell mysteriously ill.

A bill introduced on Wednesday by Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and New Jersey Rep. Albio Sires would resume Cuba’s family reunification parole program, which allows eligible Cuban Americans to bring their loved ones to the United States in waiting for their visa.

“The Cuban people live under a brutal authoritarian regime, with little control over their fate,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement, “so we must do everything we can to provide them with a pathway to immigrate quickly and legally to the United States. “.

The Democrats’ move comes as the United States is expected to announce as early as Thursday an increase in consular staff at its embassy in Havana to help resolve the years-long visa backlog. Last month, a senior US State Department official told Congress the plan involved sending temporary consular officers to speed up visa processing.

Currently, there is a backlog of approximately 22,000 applications for the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program. While U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services says the program is still in effect, visa processing has been on hold for years. The Trump administration cut embassy staff and cut its consular services in 2017, following mysterious health issues among staff. The disease, dubbed “Havana syndrome,” can cause dizziness, ringing in the ears and cognitive impairment and is being studied by the Biden administration. Then, in December 2018, the United States Immigration and Citizenship Services permanently closed its field office in Havana.

Cubans should visit the U.S. Embassy in Guyana for visa interviews and other application processing services. Travel from Cuba is expensive for many island residents, and the COVID-19 pandemic has presented additional challenges to leaving the island.

What does the bill say?

The four-page bill, titled the “Cuban Family Reunification Parole Act of 2022,” directs the Secretaries of Homeland Security and the State Department to begin processing family parole applications and assign staff to the Embassy of the United States in Havana from their agencies. . He has no related bill in the Senate at this time.

Heads of agencies must ensure that “applications for parole under the Cuban Parole Program for Family Reunification that were filed before the date of enactment of this law began to be adjudicated no later than six months after the date” of promulgation of the law, indicates the bill. .

Conditional releases granted under the program, according to the legislation, must be valid for “an initial period of at least two years”. This delay would allow many Cubans coming on parole to obtain permanent residence, thanks to the Cuban adjustment law still in force.

“As the daughter of a maid and janitor who sacrificed themselves every day to ensure their children had a better life, I believe that nothing is more important than family. I am proud to strongly support the reinstatement of Cuba’s parole program for family reunification,” said Florida Rep. Val Demings, who co-sponsored the legislation. Other Florida Democrats, including Reps. Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Sheila Cherfilus -McCormick and Kathy Castor, also supported the bill.

“I fully understand the need for enhanced security,” Demings added, “but we cannot use security as an excuse to leave people victimized by Cuba’s criminal regime.”

The bill also directs the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of their personnel and to ensure that personnel can dedicate resources at least one company per day per week to the program of family parole.

In recent years, other efforts have been made by Florida’s congressional delegation to expedite consular services for Cuban nationals and restart the family parole program. Miami residents also protested in favor of reinstating the program.

Former Miami Democratic Representatives Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala introduced a bill in 2019 that required the US government to reinstate the program and also conduct visa interviews by videoconference.

Republican Representatives María Elvira Salazar, Carlos Gimenez, and Mario Díaz-Balart of Florida, along with Democratic Representative Murphy, introduced their own version of a bill to bring the program back in April 2021. Their bill would have taken up the in-person interviews and other services for the program at U.S. Naval Base Guantánamo Bay in southeastern Cuba.

Díaz-Balart told the Miami Herald in a statement that “the only way to do this is through a bipartisan bill.”

“This bill must defend and promote the safety of American personnel and prohibit perpetrators of human rights violations from benefiting from the parole program,” Díaz-Balart said. “In April 2021, Representatives Stephanie Murphy, Maria Elvira Salazar, Carlos A. Gimenez, and I introduced a bipartisan bill that reinstates this program while addressing these serious concerns.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Salazar said that while the new bill has not been shared with her office, she applauds all efforts to move the family reunification agenda forward. Like Díaz-Balart, she emphasized a policy that involved a bipartisan solution and guaranteed the safety of American diplomats.

“I hope my colleagues will come to the table and negotiate with their Republican counterparts,” she said.

The Florida Republican trio asked President Joe Biden last month to restart consular services in Cuba, prioritizing human rights and pro-democracy activists and people with urgent medical or humanitarian needs. In the letter, they also requested the resumption of processing of parole program applications and were warned of security issues, including Havana Syndrome, that embassy staff members may face in Cuba. .

© 2022 Miami Herald. To visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Content Agency Tribune, LLC.

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