New Round of US-Cuba Immigration Talks Begin Monday

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

( - The bi-annual round of immigration talks between Cuba and the United States takes place Monday in Havana.

Senior Cuban and U.S. officials plan to meet for one day of talks on the issue of illegal immigration -- people who flee the communist-run island for freedom in the United States.

Such talks have been going on for six years, with the Castro government blaming U.S. immigration policy for the exodus of "boat people" from Cuba.

U.S. officials say the exodus stems from Cuban policies. They say Cubans choose to leave home because they are dissatisfied with the economic and authoritarian policies of the Castro government.

However, Radio Havana quoted Cuban political analysts as saying the Monday meeting will be overshadowed by the recent tragedy in which 30 Cubans, including 13 children, drowned earlier this month while on their way to Florida in what the Castro government is calling "an illegal human trafficking operation."

Relatives in South Florida told wire services that the group left Nov. 16 and were supposed to arrive the next day. U.S. Coast Guard officials later found a capsized 30-foot speedboat believed to be used for the journey, but no bodies were recovered.

Last Tuesday, Cuban leader Fidel Castro used the incident to protest the Cuban Adjustment Act enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1966. It grants American citizenship to Cubans who reach U.S. shores, and the Castro government says that prompts many Cubans to make dangerous boat trips across the Florida Straits.

Castro attacked it as a "terrorist law" during a rally in front of the U.S. Interests Section office in Havana. He noted that since the law was passed, hundreds and perhaps thousands of Cubans have drowned trying to make the dangerous journey through the Florida Straits to America.

He also said the law applies only to Cubans, and encourages illegal immigration and unnecessary risk as well as actually rewarding those who reach the United States.

Radio Havana reported more than 300,000 Cubans came to the rally dressed in black to mourn the drowning deaths.

Illegal Cuban immigrants reaching the U.S. are automatically granted residency after one year and according to Castro, that is something not granted to immigrants from any other country.

He accused the U.S. of allowing Cubans to enter the U.S. even if they arrive by air with false documents. He questioned how it was possible for U.S. authorities to safeguard their country while allow this type of immigration. He noted that many with criminal records and who have never met basic U.S. immigration requirements are still granted citizenship in the United States.

Castro concluded his speech saying the Cuban Adjustment Act constitutes "a crime against humanity." He also said the legislation is "not only a murderous law, but is also a terrorist law; one that fosters the worst kind of terrorism because it deliberately and without remorse kills innocent children."

Both Cuban and U.S. government officials said that since January 1995, the accords have allowed more than 130,000 Cubans to legally enter the United States.