(CNS): When the Legislative Assembly begins its final sitting of this administration Wednesday, one of the items on its long agenda is dealing with the supplementary appropriations arising from the budgets spanning the Progressives’ term in office. For the 2015/16 budget MLAs will be voting on nearly CI$3 million more for the premier’s home affairs ministry to cover the costs of dealing with the massive influx of Cuban migrants last year.
There are 51 migrants still detained on Grand Cayman after another 20 Cuban men and women were deported to Havana on Tuesday.
After the Department of Immigration, the Customs Department and the Prison Service escorted two women and 18 men from the Immigration Detention Centre to a charter flight at the Owen Roberts International Airport, there are now 11 women and 40 men still detained and awaiting deportation.
It is now not clear what will happen following the change in US policy announced last month that has pulled up the welcome mat for all Cubans who crossed over America’s land borders.
The détente between Havana and Washington that began under former US President Barrack Obama’s term saw an increase in migration from Cayman’s large neighbouring island as people feared the new warming of relations between Cuba and the US signalled the likely end of the ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy in America.
This fuelled a significant increase in migrant numbers, as they believed time was running out to make it to America and stay legally. As expected, some days before Obama handed the reins of power to Donald Trump, the administration signalled an immediate end to the policy with no warning to prevent an even greater surge.
Given its geographical position, many Cuban migrants ended up in Cayman waters in unsafe, makeshift vessels, where they were forced to end their journey. But since the announcement just one group of migrants, already en route before the news reached Cuba, entered Cayman waters.
It is still not clear if the numbers of those trying to leave Cuba will fall. The new administration has been extremely difficult to read when it comes to foreign policy and its hard-line approach to immigration. While Trump and many Republicans denounced Obama’s Cuba policy, their attitude towards immigration may see the current administration turn cold on the Havana government and the Cuban people, keeping the welcome mat firmly rolled up.
But for Cayman, the issue of migration from Cuba remains an unpredictable one. The processing and detention as well as the repatriation of migrants landing in Cayman has to be paid for but it is difficult for government to estimate at the start of a budget year how much will be required. While government cannot go over the total expenditure it budgeted for each year, it can reshuffle cash from one place to another and it has had to juggle an extra CI$2,897,702 to cover the costs of migrant services in the budget that ended on 30 June 2016.
How much will be needed in future, however, remains to be seen.