Giménez and Díaz-Balart want to ban visits by Cuban officials to U.S. airports

Miami Republican members of Congress said Friday they will introduce legislation to ban Cuban delegation visits to U.S. airports, following news that island officials were given access to Transportation Security Administration facilities at Miami International Airport on Monday as part of a long-standing cooperation program on aviation safety.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez, who chairs the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation and maritime security, said he will introduce a bill to ban visits to U.S. airports by representatives of countries on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, including Cuba, “so this doesn’t happen in the future.”

In a press conference Friday at MIA, he also said he would invite TSA director David Pekoske to testify at a hearing about the incident.

U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, chairman of a House subcommittee that makes decisions on the State Department budget, said he would also work to block the visits by using the appropriations process by which Congress administers the federal budget for different agencies, “possibly the quickest, most effective way,” he said in Spanish.

Last year, Giménez and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill prohibiting Cuban officials from touring U.S. port facilities after news that a Cuban Interior Ministry delegation was scheduled to visit the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., and the port in Wilmington, North Carolina. Later, Congress added language to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2024 prohibiting tours by representatives of countries designated as sponsors of terrorism under the International Port Security Program.

Giménez said Pekoske told him he was unaware of the Cuban officials’ visit to the airport in Miami. News of the visit stirred a backlash in Miami because it coincided with Cuba’s Independence Day on May 20 and took place without the knowledge of Miami-Dade county officials.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava said she met Thursday with representatives of the TSA and the State Department, which helped coordinate the visit, and the Department of Homeland Security.

“The agencies apologized and committed to changing their protocols to ensure we are informed before any other foreign delegations tour our airport,” she said on X.

But the apologies did not end the controversy. On Friday, Giménez, Díaz-Balart and, in briefer remarks, Sen. Rick Scott railed against the Biden administration for inviting representatives of a country officially designated as a sponsor of terrorism to learn about security at U.S. airports, a decision they called “absurd” and “reckless.”

But the TSA and the State Department have defended the visits as part of aviation safety cooperation that they say is vital to national security because dozens of daily flights connect the two countries. No other country on the list of sponsors of terrorism — Iran, North Korea and Syria — have non-stop, direct flights to the United States.

According to the TSA, Cuban officials started visiting U.S. airports in 2011 and continued under the Trump administration in 2018, though at that point, Cuba was not on the list of states that sponsor terrorism because President Barack Obama had removed it in 2015. The Trump administration put it back on the list in 2021.

The TSA also said a Cuban delegation toured MIA in 2015. Giménez, who was Miami-Dade mayor at the time, said he didn’t know about it.

“Nobody informed me,” he said. “It’s a lack of respect for the community.”