Congress must act to end the travel ban on Cuba

By Mavis Anderson and Emily Chow

Recently, rumors have been circulating that the Obama Administration is considering easing regulations on travel to Cuba. However, while advocates for changing U.S. policy towards Cuba enthusiastically applaud the efforts of the White House, it is critical to acknowledge that the President does not hold the power to actually eliminate the travel ban. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush utilized the extent of their executive power to revise and reinterpret the regulations governing travel to Cuba by limited categories of U.S. citizens. President Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessors with the alleged plan of expanding certain definitions of licenses. As history details, U.S. policy towards Cuba under Clinton and Bush varied drastically, from almost open travel under Clinton to Bush’s restrictions that only allowed Cuban Americans to visit direct family members once every three years. Thankfully, President Obama has already taken measures to reverse Bush’s harsh policy, but who knows what will happen when Obama is out of office.

Bottom line is that Congress is the only branch of government that possesses the power to end the ban on travel to Cuba. On Aug. 25, three members of Congress wrote a letter to President Obama that recognized that while the President’s potential action is important and very welcome, its most significant aspect would be to give a green light to Congress to finish the job and change the law, which the president is unable to do.

In their letter, Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Ma.), Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), and Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.) urged President Obama “to go even further and voice your support for H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act.” This is the bill that is making its way through the House of Representatives and which LAWG and our partners have been promoting for the past year. It builds on the “travel for all” legislation that Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-Ma.) and Jeff Flake (R-Az.) introduced nearly two years ago (H.R. 874), adding two significant agriculture fixes to the end-the-travel-ban language. H.R. 4645 is critical to actually changing the law governing travel to Cuba, and not simply revising the regulations that prevent us from traveling to Cuba freely, as we can to every other country on the face of the globe.

You are able to play a role in this effort to tell Congress to end the travel ban by signing a petition that we have posted on the website, here. Your signature on the petition results in an email sent to your representative urging her/his support of H.R. 4645 – to bring some sanity to our outdated and damaging Cuba policy. Signers of the petition as of September 2 have sent 10,830 emails to members of Congress, instructing them to carry out the will of their constituents and end the travel ban on Cuba.

Mavis Anderson and Emily Chow are with the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), one of the nation’s longest-standing coalitions dedicated to foreign policy. The Latin America Working Group carries out the coalition’s mission to encourage U.S. policies towards Latin America that promote human rights, justice, peace and sustainable development. LAWG promotes the interests of over 60 major religious, humanitarian, grassroots and policy organizations to decision makers in Washington. We are a trusted voice in Congress, and provide guidance to policymakers who want their decisions to be grounded in human rights. 

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