Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A clash between U.S./Cuban migration laws contributes to Central America refugee crisis

A clash between U.S./Cuban migration laws contributes to Central America
refugee crisis

Does the Cuban Adjustment Act need to be changed?
Complaints mount about refugees who return to Cuba at will
A Cuban migration crisis brews in Central America

When Cuba changed its migration policies three years ago, eliminating
the reviled tarjeta blanca or exit visa and allowing its citizens to
come and go more freely, the handwriting was on the wall: its new
regulations were on a collision course with current U.S. migration
policies for Cubans.

Cubans have long been the beneficiaries of two specialized policies, the
Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot doctrine that give them
preferential treatment to stay in the United States — even if they enter
without a visa or hire smugglers to bring them here.

Under Cuba's migration reform, Cubans are allowed to stay outside the
island for up to two years — rather than the former limit of 11 months —
without losing their rights as citizens. Because the Cuban Adjustment
Act allows them to apply for permanent residency in the United States
after a year that means Cubans can get green cards, work in the United
States and still freely return to Cuba before their 24 months expire,
live on the island for awhile and then return to the United States.

The new Cuban policy also means that Cubans who can get visas to
countries within striking distance of the United States, or who travel
to Ecuador and a handful of small islands in the hemisphere that don't
require entry visas for Cubans can much more easily position themselves
for a leap to their ultimate goal: U.S. soil.

With more than 2,000 Cubans, many of whom started their journeys
northward from as far away as Ecuador, marooned at the Costa Rican
border because Nicaragua refuses to let them enter its territory, the
debate over the Cuban Adjustment Act and wet foot/dry foot, which allows
those who reach U.S. shores to stay and returns most Cubans picked up at
sea, has intensified.

Are U.S. policies a siren call luring Cubans to the land of plenty, an
anachronism of the Cold war in light of Cuba's new relationship with the
United States, or still necessary for those fleeing oppression?

When it was originally conceived, the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act was
intended to give status to Cubans who had fled to the United States
after the 1959 Revolution and then found themselves unable to return to
Cuba and in legal limbo in the United States.

But now it's used by people who can come and go.

Medicaid fraudsters, criminals, and others who have figured out how to
play both the U.S. and Cuban systems are among those who have availed
themselves of the loophole opened by the incongruity in the two
countries' policies.

And this revolving-door phenomenon has piqued the ire of some in South

Gary Cardenas, a Cuban-American who arrived in October 1959 and became
an American citizen in 1965, said the new wave of Cubans is coming to
the United States "to take advantage of the great tax-dollar freebie,
thanks to our hard-earned money." Sometimes, he said, it seems that
recent arrivals get more benefits than Cubans who have lived and worked
in the United States for decades.

The ex-wife of one his co-workers, he said, got a voucher for subsidized
Section 8 housing but never lived in the apartment she found. Instead,
she sublet it, went back to Cuba, bought an apartment there and has her
son send her the rent checks and other benefits she is eligible for in
the United States. "Shut down the Cuban Adjustment Act now," Cardenas said.

"When you have people who are coming and a year and a day later are
traveling back to Cuba 15 times a year, 12 times, 10 times, eight times,
that doesn't look like someone who is fleeing oppression," Republican
presidential hopeful and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told the Associated
Press Thursday. "And other people turn to us and say, 'What's the
justification for this special status?' That's a very legitimate point."

Richard Feinberg, a professor of international political economy at the
University of California, San Diego, said the CAA is "such an obvious
inducement; it treats Cuba as an exceptional case. I think we're now
seeing the consequences of this anomaly in Central America. People have
different motives for leaving Cuba, but it's not like they're fleeing a
violent situation and unrest.

"The assumption has been the Cuban-American delegation has had a
stranglehold on the issue in Congress," said Feinberg, who was senior
director of the National Security Council's Office of Inter-American
Affairs during the Clinton administration.

But the belief that the CAA is untouchable in the Cuban-American
community may be an antiquated notion, and even Cuban-American members
of the South Florida congressional delegation say they are willing to
take a second look at it.

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said he is working on a legislative
solution that would preserve the "path to freedom for the dictator's
victims while eliminating rampant abuses of our nation's generosity."

He wrote a letter to President Barack Obama last week expressing his
concern over the spike in Cuban arrivals since the administration's new
Cuba policy went into effect and asking how the president intended to
manage the influx and "assist local and state government in finding the
resources necessary to handle this emerging crisis."

In the recently concluded fiscal year, 45,000 Cubans presented
themselves at U.S. checkpoints along the Texas border with Mexico and
asked to be admitted to the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act.

"There should be no back and forth traffic to Cuba for those who choose
to use the CAA to obtain U.S. residency because these individuals are
abusing the system to jump in line over every other refugee," said Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. "Those who wish to travel back to Cuba should use
the normal immigration process and not use the CAA."

Ros-Lehtinen said she's been a long-time opponent of the wet foot/dry
foot policy because it encourages Cubans to risk their lives to cross
the Florida Straits — although she said it's necessary to confront the
root cause that is driving the exodus: "the Castro Communist dictatorship."

Rubio told the Associated Press that he's open to modifying the Cuban
Adjustment Act — although he also said he would immediately roll back
much of Obama's opening toward Cuba if elected.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, has filed a bill, H.R. 3818, that would
eliminate the Cuban Adjustment Act, end wet foot/dry policy and put
Cubans on the same footing as anyone else seeking to come to the United
States. He said these amnesty policies are "costing taxpayers billions
of dollars.

"If President Obama has normalized relations with Cuba, why would we
treat illegal immigrants from that nation any different than those from
other countries?" Gosar asked. "My legislation is a commonsense solution
that will level the playing field and end the outdated policies that
provide amnesty to Cuban aliens and criminals."

The bill, which has eight co-sponsors, has been referred to the House
Judiciary Committee but given the current fractious Congress in an
election year, it is given little chance of passage this year.

However, Washington attorney Robert Muse said it's not necessary for
Congress to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act because it is just enabling
legislation and it is up to the discretion of the U.S. Attorney General
whether to parole a Cuban into the United States. The CAA states that a
Cuban who has been present in the United States for at least a year "may
be adjusted by the Attorney General... and lawfully admitted for
permanent residence."

"It doesn't say the administrative branch has to do anything," said
Muse. In his reading of the act, "President Obama could rescind it
tomorrow morning. It's purely within the jurisdiction of the executive

But Miami immigration lawyer Ira Kurzban has said the Adjustment Act is
in the hands of Congress. He also points to a 1996 law that says it
can't be changed until the president certifies that a democratically
elected government is in power in Cuba. But he agrees that wet foot/dry
foot is not a statute and open to interpretation.

"There are so many contradictions in all of this," said Muse, "but I'm
perplexed why people keep talking about the need for Congress to lift
this. The Attorney General could stop granting permanent residence
tomorrow, leaving any Cuban who arrives in the U.S. without a valid visa
in the same position as any other illegal immigrant."

The State Department reiterated last week that the United States has "no
plans to change its immigration policies with regard to Cuba."

Comments on social media also indicate that at least some members of the
Cuban-American community might not be so welcoming to the latest wave of
Cubans who are stuck in Central America. They've questioned why the
Cubans have been so insistent and willing to protest in Central America
when they have failed to protest Cuban government policies on the
island. "Cobardes (cowards)," reads more than one Facebook post.

Andy Gomez, a Cuba analyst and retired University of Miami vice provost,
said he was shocked by the comments he has read from some people he
knows. "I think there's a great apathy toward Cuba on the part of
Cuban-Americans now and it seems some of them have forgotten how many of
our parents and grandparents came here."

He thinks the Cuban Adjustment Act should stay in place "until the human
rights situation improves in Cuba."

Marcie Soto, a Hialeah Gardens retiree who came to South Florida from
Cuba as a 10-year-old, said she hasn't forgotten but she finds this new
generation of Cubans different. "The Cuban Adjustment Act was created to
protect those whose life was in danger, like my father who died without
ever going back," she said. "What is happening today is a joke."

A reevaluation of the Cuban Adjustment Act is way overdue, she said.
"I'm sick and tired of my tax dollars going to programs for people that
don't deserve it. These Cubans are in no way, shape, or form like the
Cubans of mine and my parents' generation. They are the creation of a
socialist regime that has gotten them used to government dependency."

But the feeling isn't universal. Juan Tomás Sánchez, a Cuban-American
engineer who lives in Miami, said the Cuban Adjustment Act should remain
in place and the Cubans now in Central America should be able to use it.
"Risking lives and miles trekking through jungles and guerrillas makes
you a refugee, not a migrant," he said.

And not all the newly arrived Cubans are here to cash in on social
benefits. "We've seen young people, well-educated people — doctors,
dentists. There's s a tremendous brain drain going on. What Cubans need
now are more economic opportunities — and hope — so they don't want to
leave," said Carlos Saladrigas, a business executive and chairman of the
Cuban Study Group.

In the past, large exoduses of its people have served as a safety valve
for Cuba, but now, with a rapidly aging population, it needs to adopt
policies that will keep young people on the island, analysts say.

Cuba's Foreign Ministry has taken aim at not only the wet foot/dry foot
policy for causing the Central American crisis but also a 2006 law that
allows Cuban medical personnel providing services in third countries to
enter the United States as the key factors disrupting legal, safe and
orderly migration of Cubans to the United States.

While the Cubans have blamed "politicized" U.S. immigration policies,
some members of South Florida's Cuban-American Congressional delegation
are pointing the finger instead at the Obama administration's
rapprochement with Cuba.

"There is a direct correlation between President Obama's misguided
policies toward the Castro regime and the dramatic increase of Cubans
fleeing the island," said South Florida Republican Rep. Mario
Diaz-Balart. "When the Castro regime encounters weak administrations, as
it has with Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama, it cynically uses the
desperation of the Cuban people to press for ever more concessions on
migration and other policies."

Foreign ministers from the Central American Integration System are
expected to meet Tuesday in El Salvador to discuss the exodus, and the
United States and Cuba may also take a crack at their rocky migratory
relationship soon. Earlier this month at a meeting of the
Cuba-U.S.Bilateral Commission, Cuba said a dialogue would be scheduled
soon on migration and people trafficking.

This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an
online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with
the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at MiamiHerald.com/insight.

Source: A clash between U.S./Cuban migration laws contributes to Central
America refugee crisis | Miami Herald -

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