Last Thursday, President Obama abolished a 22-year-long immigration policy, most commonly known as the “Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot” policy. This allowed Cuban immigrants, who journey to U.S. shores, the ability to gain residency permits with ease. In his official statement, Obama ties a protective motive to his decision. He explains that through the repeal, “we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries.”
The intentions of this policy are those of healing and moving to a more efficient relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. In Obama’s own words, “the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people.” Through removing a hand up to Cubans seeking freedom, the Department of Homeland Security and the Obama administration envision that the Cuban people will begin to stand up on their own.
An admirable hope, but one in which many argue will only add to the millions of immigrants taking on the life-threatening fight to find prosperity in the land of plenty, otherwise known as the United States. Kate Linthicum of the Los Angeles Times uses the story of one man, Alexander Gutierrez Garci, an evangelical pastor seeking religious freedom and the catastrophic timing of the policy on his own life. As Linthicum explains, Gutierrez has been on a journey through illness, kidnapping and starvation to seek refuge in the U.S. Until just a few days ago, he would be allowed to work and eventually bring his wife and children to live in the U.S. Now Gutierrez finds himself stranded in his own charted territory of Costa Rica, sleeping elbow to elbow, sick and without any hint of a plan. He, along with many others, feel just a few months short of adding to the sea of 38,573 Cubans who found refuge in surviving the odds and showing up at the U.S. border, with a number that has doubled since 2009. Although Gutierrez firmly claims he would not try to cross the border illegally, how will the other tens of thousands of individuals in his position, seeking to escape torment, react?
The rapidly increasing individuals heading on the journey from Cuba combined with close to millions of combined Latin American countries. This ranged from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and more that lead to a not so promising outlook. The treacherous voyage of illegal immigration to the U.S. is not a chosen method. Yet, it is one that millions on the horizon choose with such severe desperation that there is not another tangible option. For Cubans suddenly stranded somewhere in the maze of foreign countries after Obama’s statement, the decision to move forward illegally or head back to Castro’s Cuba now cements them between a rock and a hard place.
The hope for these people lies in the future, but possibly too far in the future. President elect Donald Trump has been very ambitious with his plans for immigration altercations. He has called for reform and a wall lining the U.S.-Mexico border. Both concepts with potential success and also potential catastrophe. Immigration reform is necessary for individuals lying on both the far left and the far right of U.S. politics. Obviously both party’s ways of getting to that reform differ greatly. In truth, no one can fully predict what the Trump administration can and will do to change the illegal immigration outcry to a positive, legal immigration increase nor how long it will be until any conclusion is met.
At least for now, what can the thousands of Cubans, like Gutierrez, do? The future holds the hope, but the future is not now. Obama also made it clear that Cuba has agreed to take any Cubans back that are caught by the U.S. border patrol and that the U.S. is still willing to grant residency to Cubans that qualify under asylum. Gutierrez plans to continue his journey North seeking asylum under his quest for religious freedom. The U.S. is notably tricky with the term of “asylum,” granting it to immigrants in very rare cases.
Overall, the interconnectedness of the U.S.’s decision never fails to baffle. In many ways, the decisions, what to vote for and against, what to talk about, what to protest for, of typical Americans ripples through neighboring countries and the world. The people that simply show up as a statistic in U.S. newspapers have a network just as deep and vast as the community at Hope College.
In this established place of education, we are gifted with the ability to not only speak, but to have people listen. Hope welcomes everyone, but how can we show this if we cannot face these issues? The immigrants wandering in a vast world of indecisiveness have no voice here. However, we can give it to them. Despite which side you lean on with politics, immigration is a topic worth learning about and speaking for. If our interconnectedness is channeled to a level of solidarity, the key to immigration reform is in our very hands.