Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes on an Agreement With Cuba Concerning Immigration and Refugee Matters

December 14, 1984

As the result of several years of efforts in a series of intensive discussions, the U.S. was able to reach agreement with Cuba today on the return to Cuba of approximately 2,700 who came to the United States in the Mariel boatlift of 1980. Representatives of the Department of State and the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the Department of Justice participated in these discussions.

Those persons to be returned to Cuba are ineligible to remain in the U.S. because they admitted to committing serious crimes in Cuba, have committed serious crimes in the United States, or suffer from severe mental disorders. It was agreed that these persons will be returned in a phased and orderly manner.

I would like to point out that those who will be returned represent only a very small percentage of the persons who came to the United States in the Mariel boatlift. The vast majority of these 129,000 persons have incorporated themselves into American life and are now being processed by INS under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 for legal resident status.

Cuba's agreement to accept the return of those individuals removes an impediment under U.S. law and permits us to resume normal processing of visas for Cuban applicants, as had been the case in Havana prior to 1980. Processing of all immigrant visas, other than for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, and processing of refugee applications have been suspended since 1980 because of Cuba's refusal to accept the return of persons whom the U.S. has declared excludable. Under the refugee program, ex-political prisoners in Cuba will be eligible to apply to come to the United States under established U.S. procedures. We cannot predict how many Cubans will apply for entry into the United States, but I would reemphasize that both those returning to Cuba and those applying to come to the U.S. will be handled in a phased and orderly process.

The talks were limited only to migration matters. Moreover, the conclusion of an agreement on this issue does not signal any change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. That policy reflects our serious concern about Cuba's international behavior. We see no evidence that Cuba is prepared to change that behavior.

Note: Larry M. Speakes read the statement to reporters assembled in the Briefing Room at the White House at 4:15 p.m.