Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rivera seeks to restrict some Cubans from returning to Cuba

Posted on Tuesday, 08.16.11

Rivera seeks to restrict some Cubans from returning to Cuba

A congressman seeks to impose sanctions on Cubans if they return to the
island within a few years after leaving.
By Juan O. Tamayo

U.S. Rep. David Rivera said Tuesday he wants to sanction Cuban Americans
who return to the island less than five years after they left, alleging
that they are abusing a loophole in the Cuban Adjustment Act and helping
the country's communist system.

The South Florida Republican submitted a bill on Aug. 1 to deal with the
growing complaint that Cubans benefit from the CAA as refuge-seekers but
then return to the island just to visit relatives or even to vacation.

Approved in 1966 for the tens of thousands of Cubans who were fleeing
the communist government at the height of the Cold War, the CAA offers
U.S. residency 366 days after arrival and other benefits. Citizens of no
other country receive such benefits.

"The original intent of the CAA was to provide status to Cuban refugees
because they were not able to return to Cuba," Rivera told El Nuevo
Herald. "That political situation remains the same today, with a
communist totalitarian dictatorship in power."

"We have to do something about those who avail themselves of an act
designed to protect them from persecution and then travel back to the
persecuting country in an obvious abuse of the law," he added.

Criticism of the CAA has been building in recent years around the United
States and even among South Florida's older Cuban exile community, as
growing numbers of Cuban arrivals argue that they left the island for
economic rather than political reasons.

About 300,000 Cuban-Americans visited the island in 2010, and the Raúl
Castro government has said it is reviewing migration regulations — a
possible hint that more will be allowed to return in order to help boost
the island's economy.

"The Castro dictatorship is hoping for a lifesaver with increased
travel," Rivera said. "This bill will hopefully throw it an anchor."

Rivera's bill, HR2771, requires the Department of Homeland Security to
rescind the adjusted state of Cubans who return to the island before
they obtain their U.S. citizenship. Cubans generally need up to five
years to become U.S. citizens.

Aides said he had not publicized the bill because he is waiting until
Congress resumes to amend the wording of a section that would have
affected all Cuban arrivals and not just those who return to the island.

The current wording would require Cubans to wait five years – instead of
the current one year and one day — before they are covered by the CAA,
receiving immediate U.S. residency and other benefits. The new wording,
emailed by Rivera's office to El Nuevo Herald, says Cubans will be
ineligible for CAA if they return to the country before their status is

Congress watchers said the bill has a chance of passing because it could
be perceived as both tightening U.S. immigration regulations and taking
a jab at the Cuban government.

Supporters of more open travel to Cuba immediately condemned Rivera's
proposal as a attempt to halt the trend toward increased trips by both
Cuban Americans to visit relatives and non-Cuban U.S. residents on
academic, religious and other legal visits.

"The Cuban government has spent its life dividing the Cuban family, and
now we have a person like Rivera, who for political reasons does the
same and divides the people," said Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the
Democracy Movement in Miami.

"What he is doing is punishing the Cubans and not the dictator," added

"He is holding the Cuban community hostage to his maniacal desire to
prevent people from travelling to Cuba," said Ira Kurzban, an
immigration lawyer who has represented several Cuba travel companies.

Hard-line critics of the Cuban government threaded carefully on the
Rivera bill, agreeing with the congressman that Cubans should not be
allowed to return quickly to the island but arguing that the CAA's
benefits to should be protected.

"That act is being used by people who have no hint of persecution," said
radio commentator Ninoska Pérez, referring to Cubans who describe
themselves as economic migrants yet obtain the CAA's benefits.

"I don't want to see Cubans lose those privileges," added Pérez, who has
repeatedly referred to the abuses of the CAA in her radio program over
the past month. But Rivera's bill "is what happens when you abuse a law
approved for the politically persecuted."

Mauricio Claver-Carone director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy political
action committee in Washington, said he also wants to preserve the
benefits of the CAA but approves of Rivera's efforts to sanction those
who travel to Cuba too quickly.

"There should be consequences for people who adjust their status under
the act and then travel back to the island using a loophole that
refugees from other nations don't have," Claver-Carone said.

"We agree to put Cubans on a level playing field with refugees from
other countries like Iran," he noted, adding that U.S. regulations bar
refuge seekers from returning home, at least until they become American
citizens. "That unfair advantage needs to be fixed."

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