July 23, 2004
The United States Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (USNB), has supported a migrant operations program for the U.S. government for many years. Currently, the migrant operations program at the USNB is a joint effort of the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Department of Defense (DOD) serves as a host to the Migrant Operations Center (MOC) by providing infrastructure and resource support.
The MOC is not connected in any way with the DOD’s detention mission also located at USNB.
Most migrants who eventually arrive at USNB are interdicted at sea in the Caribbean region by the U.S. Coast Guard. On rare occasions, migrants arrive at USNB directly, either by land or sea. Interdicted migrants are not brought to the United States, in order to discourage illegal and dangerous voyages by sea and to encourage future migrants to pursue safe and legal migration options.
It is longstanding U.S. policy and practice to provide all migrants with an opportunity to seek and receive protection against persecution or torture. Migrants interdicted at sea in the Caribbean region are brought to the MOC if DHS determines that they have a “credible fear” of persecution upon return to their country of origin on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, or if they would likely face torture upon return to their country of origin. If after additional in-depth interviews a migrant is determined to have a “well-founded fear” of such persecution or would more likely than not face torture, then they are granted “protect” status, and the U.S. houses and cares for that person at the MOC while it finds a third country that is willing to resettle him/her. Migrants found to not meet the required threshold are repatriated to their country of origin. “Protect” migrants are free to return to their country of origin upon request.
The “protect” population is not incarcerated or detained. They live in a relatively unrestricted environment, and have substantial freedom of movement in that they are permitted to sign themselves in and out of the facility to participate in activities on the leeward side of the base. This component is in place for accountability purposes only. Some restrictions of movement are necessary due to security concerns surrounding other USNB missions.
Efforts have been undertaken to integrate the migrants into the social fabric of the base. They are housed in an apartment-style setting (previously a military barracks); receive free medical/dental care; are permitted work opportunities on base; are permitted to establish bank accounts; are permitted opportunities to socialize with other citizens of the base; attend religious services of their choice; are allowed to send and receive mail; and are given ample recreational opportunities (e.g., migrants have their own competitive softball and soccer teams).