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Push and Pull: the Forces that Drive Immigrants to Risk Everything to Come to the United States Part Three

In my first blog in this series, I explained that there are multiple causes to our immigration dilemma here in the United States. Some of these causes have their genesis in the U.S., and encourage people to risk it all to come here; I have coined these causes, pull factors. There are also strong influences present in almost every country in the world that encourage residents of those nations to want to leave, these are push factors. So in countries where there are strong push factors and similarly strong pull factors to the U.S., we see the largest migration of people seeking to enter the United States legally or otherwise.

Last time out I covered the strong push and pull factors that combined in Honduras, El Salvador & Guatemala to create the immigration and humanitarian crisis that we saw at the Southwest Border last summer.

This time I will cover two of our Caribbean neighbors where immigration to the U.S. is relatively very high. Cuba and Haiti send thousands of immigrants to the U.S. every year both with proper documents and without. Those who come over with authorization are usually coming to follow family members who are in the U.S. and have petitioned to bring their relatives here–pull factors. Those who are coming without authorization are usually fleeing poverty, persecution or violence–push factors.

However, there are many countries in the Caribbean who have poverty (Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are poorer than Cuba) although no one comes close to how poor Haiti is. Jamaica is the most violent place in the Caribbean, followed by the Bahamas and St. Kitts. However, these countries boast modest unauthorized entry numbers per capita compared to Cuba and Haiti.

So what accounts for the high rates of desperate people fleeing Cuba and Haiti for the U.S? Its the strong pull factors present here in the U.S. that exist for both Cubans and Haitians, that separates them from their more violent and poorer Caribbean neighbors and accounts for their high rates of unauthorized entry.

For Cubans, its very clear that the U.S. immigration laws give them special treatment. Some call it the “wet foot/dry foot” policy that allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to obtain lawful entry and get a green card in one year. This law is actually called the Cuban Adjustment Act. It allows any Cuban national who is admitted or paroled into the U.S. to obtain a green card after being in the U.S. for one year. Many Cubans know of this policy and they know all they have to do is reach U.S. soil by boat, or even walk up to a U.S. border from Mexico or Canada and request admission, and they will be allowed in. This creates a tremendous pull factor actually encouraging every willing and able Cuban to risk everything to come to the U.S.

For the Haitians the pull factors are equally strong, but different. The political turmoil in Haiti that began in the 1990s created worldwide news of the political killings and atrocities that were happening in Haiti. Thousands of Haitians fled Haiti every year to avoid persecution. Many applied for asylum after arriving in Miami, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. During the 90s and 2000s, thousands of asylum applications were granted which led to green cards and led to thousands more to flee Haiti and claim political asylum. Add the U.S. law called HRIFA (the Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act) which gave Haitian refugees green cards even if they could not prove they qualified for asylum, and then two rounds of Temporary Protected Status, which provides Haitians who were in the U.S. by a certain date with work permits and shielded them from deportation, and you have decades of pull factors that created a pipeline of Haitians fleeing the island for the U.S.

Citizens of Trinidad, Jamaica, the D.R. and other violent and poor places do not receive the special immigration treatment that Haitians and Cubans do. So even though the push factors exist in those countries, there are not the same pull factors to encourage them to come to the U.S. Therefore, unauthorized immigration from those countries do no rise to the level of Haiti and Cuba.

John Gihon is an immigration and criminal defense attorney with the law offices of Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon. John is a former state prosecutor and Senior Attorney with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He now helps people defend themselves against deportation and criminal prosecution. You can follow John on Twitter at @JohnGihon, or reach him at john@slgattorneys.com.