Cubans' special immigration status: Our view
The Editorial Board6:50 p.m. EST January 25, 2016
Repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act.
President Obama is feeling heat from Latinos and pro-immigration groups
over deportation raids directed at recently arrived undocumented
immigrants, mostly from Central America.
He's in a difficult position. He wants to prevent a recurrence of 2014,
when more than 51,000 children from Guatemala, Honduras and other
nations arrived at the U.S. border. To that end, the
deportation raids send a clear message aimed at discouraging more people
from coming. But the spectacle of raids involving children and families
is a wrenching one.
What Obama is not feeling much heat over is the more than 47,000
undocumented Cubans who came to the USA last year, or the equal or
larger numbers likely to come this year.
That's because U.S. law treats Cubans differently from immigrants of any
other nationality. Thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act, first enacted in
1966 and amended in 1996, any Cuban who makes it to U.S. soil is put on
a fast track to permanent legal status, benefits and, ultimately,
The law, which never made much sense, should be repealed.
While the Castro brothers in Cuba have been brutal and repressive, the
same can be said of many other regimes around the world. One of the
worst places these days is Syria, where citizens are caught between the
despotic regime of Bashar Assad and the bloodthirsty militants of the
so-called Islamic State. Yet many American lawmakers, including those
who support the Cuban Adjustment Act, are dead set against anything more
than token acceptance of Syrian refugees.
To call U.S. policy toward Cubans bizarre is an understatement. Cubans
have a special status presumably because they are fleeing from
persecution. Yet, under the act, Cubans, unlike asylum seekers from
other countries, can — and often do — make trips back and forth to their
homeland without jeopardizing their applications for permanent status.
Surely, those who faced a serious threat of persecution wouldn't want to
return to Cuba.
Cubans have also found a way to game the "wet foot, dry foot" policy
that grew out of the Cuban Adjustment Act in the 1990s. This policy
holds that anyone apprehended at sea will be sent back to Cuba, while
those who reach U.S. shores are home free. Rather than risk being caught
at sea, the vast majority of Cubans these days fly to Mexico and travel
over land to the U.S. border.
U.S. immigration policies on Cuba also provide reason for cynicism in
politics. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the two Cuban-American Republican
senators running for president, both portray themselves as tough on
illegal immigration and border enforcement. But neither can bring
himself to advocate repealing the Cuban Adjustment Act.
Rubio says it should be re-examined. But his focus is on making
adjustments that would end the back-and-forth travel, while leaving its
central tenets intact. Cruz argues the law is still necessary given the
continued existence of a communist regime in Havana.
The United States needs laws that will deter illegal immigration, not
encourage it. Enforcing these laws would be easier if they were at
least consistent, fair and defensible. The Cuban Adjustment Act is none
of the above.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board,
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