Photo credit: http://boardingarea.com/blogs/flyingwithfish/files/2009/08/jfk_tsa_021.jpg
Anya Landau French is director of research for the New America Foundation/U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative.
Responding to the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas day, the Transportation Security Administration has issued new regulations for travelers bound for the United States who either hold a passport issued by, or who are departing from or transiting through, a country on the State Department’s state sponsors of terrorism list – which includes Cuba. (In addition, the new security measures will apply travelers from 10 other countries of “concern”.)
I’ve put in an inquiry to the Department of Homeland Security’s public affairs office to learn a bit more about what these regulations will mean for U.S. citizens and permanent residents who travel to Cuba for work or to visit family. Until I get my answers, I can only guess how these regulations will be implemented. But I think it is pretty safe to say that these regulations could spark a debate in Miami and Washington about whether it’s time to remove Cuba from the terrorism list.
In 2001, there were 7 countries on the State Department’s list: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. Today there are just 4: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. After reading the State Department’s 2009 ‘rap sheet‘ on each of these countries, you might wonder which of these countries is not like the other? Here’s what it looked like in 2006, in 2000, and in 1993.
While the Obama Administration may not be ready to normalize relations with Cuba just yet, you have to wonder whether it makes sense to keep Cuba on the terrorism list in an age when fewer states sponsor terrorism but many more tolerate or fail to stop the groups and individuals who plot against the United States in some of the most lawless corners of the world.
This is an issue that has been raised repeatedly by Congress and addressed by the Government Accountability Office in 2008, which found that the U.S. applies resources to enforcing Cuba-related sanctions that could otherwise be applied to more grave terrorist threats. And if these new regulations mean that travelers arriving from Cuba will receive full pat downs and baggage inspections upon their arrival in Miami, you can imagine the renewed strain it could put on U.S. security resources there.
Are full body pat downs on as many as 200,000 Cuban Americans who are expected to travel to Cuba to visit their family annually a good use of resources? Particularly when the airport nearly all of them are traveling through – Miami – is the same airport through which many, many other international travelers (including several of the 9-11 hijackers) reach the United States.
How will the Cuban American community react to being treated like a higher potential terrorist threat every time they travel home? Over time, could the new inspection policy toward terrorist list countries rile a community that is increasingly ready to throw off old and counterproductive policies toward Cuba? And how long will it take for Congress to start asking questions about the outsize drain on security-focused resources now that nearly all Cuban Americans can travel home to Cuba whenever they want?
Most of all, won’t it seem more than a little ironic that the United States continues to accept Cubans who reach the United States illegally (and fast track them to green card status within a year), but that those same Cubans will then have to be double and triple checked to get back in the United States when they visit their family? If Cuba truly were a terrorist threat to the United States, surely the Department of Homeland Security would only accept only those illegal arrivals who could prove a political asylum case.
The State Department is slated to update its overview on terrorism at the end of April this year. But the President can remove a country from the list at any time, provided he submits proper notice and explanation to Congress first. To learn more about how Cuba got on the State Department’s terrorism list, why it remains today, and the removal process, flip to page 29 in this resource guide I wrote for the Lexington Institute.
— Anya Landau French