Why are Cubans seeking to live in US special?
By Matt Welch
Los Angeles Times
Published: February 28, 2016
Now that the GOP presidential nominating contest is settling into a
three-way race between a would-be wall builder and two guys whose
families came from Cuba, a new immigration controversy is coming to the
Record numbers of refugees from Fidel Castro's failed communist
experiment are streaming into the United States — not just across the
Florida Straits, but especially over the U.S.-Mexico border. During the
last three months of 2015, more than 12,000 Cubans knocked on our
southern door. This year's migration is on pace to double the previous high.
In stark, resentment-sowing contrast to other migrants from Latin
America, Cubans are greeted in the U.S. with cash, access to welfare and
a path to citizenship. That's all thanks to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment
Act. But now many politicians are asking whether, during this period of
Washington-Havana thaw, it's time to revamp this Cold War-era preference.
"I don't think that's fair. I mean, why would that be a fair thing?"
Donald Trump told The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune this month. "You know, we
have a system now for bringing people into the country, and what we
should be doing is we should be bringing people who are terrific people
who have terrific records of achievement, accomplishment."
Is this another oh-no-he-didn't moment for Trump, daring to utter an
unmentionable in Florida, the way he supposedly did by going after the
locally popular George W. Bush in South Carolina? Not quite. America's
"wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, whereby Cubans who are interdicted at sea
are forcibly returned to their homeland, but the ones who make it to
shore are accepted as communism-fleeing refugees, is coming under
increasing attack by Cuban-Americans as well.
"We don't think the U.S. should be fleeced by people who claim to be
refugees, then take advantage of our welfare system," Rep. Carlos
Curbelo, R-Fla., recently told Fox Latino. Curbelo in December
introduced the Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act, requiring migrants
from the island to prove they suffered political persecution before they
can receive any government benefits.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the Senate version of the bill in
January, saying that the increase in Cuban immigration is "becoming a
"We have people living in Cuba off Social Security benefits," he
lamented to a New Hampshire town hall last month. "They never worked
here. … This is an outrageous abuse."
The other Cuban-American senator battling for second place in the
Republican presidential primary, however, is comfortable with the status
quo. Ted Cruz of Texas, even while promising that all 12 million or so
immigrants in the U.S. illegally will somehow be deported and made
permanently ineligible for citizenship, thinks the Cuban Adjustment Act
should stay in place until Castro's decaying paradise is no longer
communist. Cubanos si, Venezolanos no.
This kind of political discord and uneven treatment is what happens when
immigration is managed from Washington on a patchwork,
country-by-country basis. As has been proved again and again in policies
about both immigration and Cuba, unintended consequences are the rule,
not the exception.
For instance: The renewed diplomatic relationship with the U.S., to be
crowned by President Barack Obama's historic visit to the island next
month, is one of the main reasons for the migratory surge. Cubans are
heading out now while the Cuban Adjustment Act is still in place,
fearing that they'll soon have to apply for documentation like everyone
Obama's removal last year of the cap limiting the amount of money
Americans can send back to their relatives in Cuba has also boosted the
outward migration, in conjunction with Raul Castro's elimination of an
exit visa. Suddenly, more Cubans have more access to more money, and no
longer require the government's blessing to get on a plane. No wonder
they're heading to Ecuador and Mexico with an eye turned northward —
because they can.
This is not a "crisis," this is a huge victory for personal and
political freedom of a long-suffering people. During my visit to the
island last month for the first time since 1998, the presence of new
money and personal latitude amid the socialist ruin was palpable and
heartening. As the embargo-hating Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who was part
of my group, pointed out, something like one-quarter of Cubans now make
their principal income from nongovernment sources. That's a horrendous
number in the free world, but downright miraculous in Havana.
At some point soon, Cubans should rejoin the line with other would-be
immigrants from the Caribbean and Central America. But policymakers
should be focusing on how to make that line shorter, not longer, with
simple rules that respect human aspiration and reflect supply and
demand, not the temporal whims of power-seeking pols.
Matt Welch is editor in chief of Reason and a contributing writer to the
Los Angeles Times' opinion section.
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