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In a significant shift in Cuba migration policy, the U.S. government announced Wednesday it was creating a new program that would reduce the long delays many Cubans experience in securing visas to enter the United States.

Under the new Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, Cubans granted permission to travel here by U.S. authorities will no longer have to wait in Cuba to receive permanent residency.

They will now be given a travel document that would ''parole'' them into the United States, so they can wait here for their green card to be delivered to them.

Even with the new program, however, there is no guarantee that Cubans with approved parole will enter the country any faster. That's because they still must get an exit permit from the Cuban government.

It's unclear whether or not Havana will even recognize the new U.S. program. Cuban Interests Section officials in Washington did not return a call asking for comment.

Officials with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said they hope the new program will discourage Cubans from attempting to illegally enter the United States by hiring smugglers or transporting themselves across the seas.

Those likely to benefit from the new parole program include siblings and adult children of Cuban exiles who are U.S. citizens or spouses, and minor children of Cuban green card holders.

Visas are normally available quickly for immediate relatives such as spouses, minor children and parents of U.S. citizens. These people are specifically excluded from the new program.

The program represents the first major change in U.S. migration policy toward Cuba since August 2006, when Homeland Security unveiled a program intended partly to encourage Cuban doctors serving in third countries to defect to the United States.

The program does not affect the 20,000 U.S. visas made available annually to Cubans on the island.

The change does come at a time when U.S. consular officials have failed to issue the full allotment earmarked for Cubans on the island. Late Wednesday, a U.S. official said that by mid-November the number of Cubans with approved petitions who have not received immigrant visas stood at about 13,000.

U.S. officials have blamed the Cuban government, saying it has blocked necessary materials and personnel from entering the island to process the applications.

Cuban officials have rejected U.S. accusations, saying the Bush administration has deliberately violated migration accords between the two countries dating back to 1994 and 1995.

Under the accords, the United States agreed to issue 20,000 visas a year and Cuba agreed to curb unrestricted departures of undocumented Cuban migrants. The accords helped end the 1994 rafter exodus, which brought 37,191 Cuban migrants to the United States.

The agency said it plans to notify the U.S.-based relatives who filed the petitions that their relative in Cuba is eligible for a parole document and how to request it.

If parole is granted, the agency said, it will issue travel documents in Cuba to the prospective immigrant.

Coral Gables immigration attorney Eduardo Soto said the new policy could affect thousands of Cuban families, including some of his clients.

Among them: a Cuban couple from Kendall who have spent the last four years trying to get their three children -- all adults -- into the United States. Two, however, remain in Cuba.

''I got goose bumps when I heard the news, and my wife started crying,'' said Arnaldo Almaguel. ``We are very anxious to see our children, and they are crazy about coming here.''
(Miami Herald)

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