Biden Administration Turns to Cuban TV To Promote Legal Ways to Citizenship, Could Win Voters in the Process

A director at the Hudson Institute believes the goal is to get as many migrants as they can into the country.

The New York Sun
Ads will air on the Cuban state TV show, Vivir del Cuento.

The Biden administration is launching a new campaign using Cuban actors on Havana state television to redirect illegal immigrants to legal pathways. 

If the new campaign has its intended effect, it would be a win-win for the American president and the Cuban government, swaying more Cuban voters toward President Biden and providing more cash to Havana.

“The campaign can most accurately be described as trying to redirect illegal immigration to legal pathways established by the Biden administration such as the parole program for Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Venezuelans,” an immigration policy analyst at the Niskanen Center, Gil Guerra, tells the Sun.

Yet some see this as a way for the current administration to sway a key voter bloc.

“This is part of a broad effort to get as many migrants as” the Biden administration “can into the country,” the director for the center for American common culture at the Hudson Institute, John Fonte, tells the Sun. 

“The Biden administration is attempting to draw a favorable policy contrast on Cuban immigration issues with Trump by reinstating programs like the Cuban Family Reunification Program suspended under the Trump administration,” Mr. Guerra says.

The Cuban show is a comedy series called “Vivir del Cuento,” which means “To Live by One’s Wit,” and has been one of the top rated TV programs on the island. The show airs on the Cubavisión channel — owned by the communist government — each Monday after the morning news.

One of its characters, Pánfilo, played by comedian Luis Silva, is featured in a video on social media for American embassy social media in an attempt to answer common consular questions. The video is the first in a series of five which the embassy plans on posting.

“Pánfilo has been enormously helpful to the Embassy’s goal of informing the Cuban public about visa requirements and lawful pathways to migrate to the United States,” a State Department spokesman tells the Sun.

The American campaign attempts to capitalize on the series’ popularity by spreading its message directly to the Cuban people. The Democratic administrations “want to give a direct image, not the image that the party-controlled press makes of the embassy and government,” a Cuban historian, Juan Antonio Blanco, told Telemundo Miami. President Obama used the same show to advertise his visit to Cuba back in 2016.

Though the message was reported to be one which will deter border crossings, that perception is misleading. Its purpose is to bring more Cubans into America.

“If you watch the video, it seems relatively normal to get in the car of a diplomatic representative” from the American embassy, “and “to explain the regular routes along the way,” a sociologist at the Cuban Research Institute of Florida International University, Elaine Acosta, told Telemundo Miami.

The clips using the actors make it sound easy to immigrate and greatly oversimplify the process. They do not mention, for example, the difficulties and delays of the process, or the backlog of millions of immigration cases.

Another goal of the campaign, Mr. Fonte says, is to turn “humanitarian parole” review to a “mass basis” from a case-by-case individual basis.

Humanitarian parole typically allows foreign nationals to temporarily enter America either because of “an emergency and urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit.” The Biden administration is “changing the meaning of humanitarian parole,” Mr. Fonte says.

The American embassy at Havana’s policy under the Biden administration, in its own words, is “to ensure safe, legal, and orderly migration of Cubans.” The new advertising campaign, according to Mr. Fonte, is but the latest move to further this goal.

“This has to be seen in the context of what’s been going on since President Biden took over in January 2021,” Mr Fonte says. “Rather than making the long trek,” migrants “would get a visa from the U.S. embassy.”

The actors on “Vivir del Cuento” operate under the direction of the Cuban dictatorship, given the nature of state-owned television. Why, then, is the Cuban government allowing the actors to work with the American embassy?

“This is a sign of the Cuban administration demonstrating its willingness to cooperate on immigration issues in return for continued rapprochement,” Mr. Guerra says. The regime, he adds, “alternates between directing and discouraging migration from the island based on its political aims.”

With a severely strained economy and signs of political instability, Havana is in dire need of financial support. 

One important source of income has been remittances. In 2023, Cuban Americans sent back a total of nearly $2.5 billion to Cuba, up from $606 million in 2021. The upward trend coincided with an increase in migration.

The Cuban government, therefore, has a vested interest in allowing its TV actors to work with the American embassy to facilitate immigration. Promoting emigration will increase remittances which allow the regime to stay afloat.

The campaign allows “the Cuban government to claim a degree of complicity in their role in facilitating irregular migration,” Mr. Guerra says, and “the Biden administration has significantly softened U.S. posture on Cuba.”

The New York Sun

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