Politics & Policy

The Cubans Are Coming!

(Nadiya Vlashchenko/Dreamstime)
They’re coming for jobs, not freedom. It’s time to end the island’s special immigration status.

Cubans are arriving in the U.S. in record numbers.

And not on boats.

Most are traveling through Mexico and crossing the Rio Grande. They don’t even have to wade across the river; they simply present themselves to immigration inspectors and, under the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy stemming from the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, they’re paroled into the United States and eventually given green cards, unlike illegal immigrants from any other nation.

The numbers are growing rapidly. Last year more than 43,000 Cubans entered without visas (three-quarters of them having come through Mexico), up 78 percent from the previous year and a sixfold increase from the start of the Obama administration. The surge results from Cuba’s loosening travel rules and, more recently, a fear that special privileges for Cuban migrants might end with the thawing of relations.

Cuban immigration graph

For many, their journey to the U.S. started in Ecuador, which until late last year allowed visa-free access to Cubans. From there, thousands traveled by bus through a string of countries to reach the U.S. border. In November, Nicaragua closed its border to Cuban illegals, blocking the land route and stranding about 8,000 in Costa Rica. After negotiations among Central American nations, last week the first batch of 180 young men was flown over Nicaragua to El Salvador and bused to Mexico, allowing them to continue on their way. They started arriving in Laredo this past weekend. (One thousand more got stuck in Panama when Costa Rica shut its southern border.)

These are not refugees seeking freedom. They’re not escapees hopping a tropical Berlin Wall. They’re coming for jobs, family, and access to American welfare, just like other migrants. That’s why it’s long past time to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act and have one immigration policy for everybody. Cubans who can demonstrate political persecution would still be able to seek asylum, but the vast majority would be judged like people from Mexico, Honduras, or anywhere else, and denied entry if they don’t have visas, or deported if they manage to sneak in.

Don’t take my word for it that the Cubans coming today are just like other migrants fleeing Third World poverty; they freely admit it. Sergei Acosta was in the first batch flown out of Costa Rica, and spoke to a reporter upon reaching Mexico:

“I’m very excited to have arrived,” Acosta told The Associated Press. He said he left Cuba in search of economic opportunity, and was optimistic about landing a job in the United States and then sending for his wife and daughter to join him. “It’s the need to have a better life.”

Likewise for Arnaldo Rodríguez del Rio. Still in Costa Rica, he was asked by a Mexican newspaper why he left Cuba: “In search of economic improvement and family reunification.”

The Central American governments agree. Costa Rica affirmed that “the Cubans are voluntary economic migrants,” while Guatemala said, “these people are not political refugees . . . the characteristics of the Cuban migration are economic and/or for family unification, as with Guatemalan migration to the United States.”

Today’s Cuba is just another poor Third World country ruled by dictators. The Cold War ended a generation ago, so the issue of Soviet encroachment in our sphere of influence no longer exists. And Jeane Kirkpatrick’s distinction between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes applies here; the Castro brothers’ regime still calls itself Communist, but it is no longer totalitarian, any more than the gangster regimes of China, Russia, or Vietnam are.

Cuba’s status as a poor, corrupt, misgoverned, but unexceptional source of emigration is abundantly clear.

This doesn’t mean President Obama’s Hollywood pals are right about their adulation of the Castros. Fidel and Raul and their minions deserve to hang from lampposts — but so do Robert Mugabe and Nursultan Nazarbaev and Ilham Aliyev, and we don’t give their subjects automatic access to permanent residence in the United States. If we’re to assume that every single person who manages to escape a country is, by definition, a refugee, that country had better have a uniquely oppressive regime, such as that of North Korea. Cuba does not.

Cuba’s status as a poor, corrupt, misgoverned, but unexceptional source of emigration is abundantly clear. When Ecuador announced in November that it would again require visas for Cubans to visit, hundreds of people staged an unprecedented protest at the Ecuadorean embassy in Havana. This wasn’t one of the fake protests staged by the regime’s thugs, nor was it a gathering of courageous dissidents. These were ordinary Cubans angry that they might be out a lot of money because of plane tickets they purchased under the visa-free policy. Cuban police secured the embassy but took no steps to disperse or punish the protesters, despite the implicit rebuke to the regime — the new visa policy was intended, in the words of Ecuador’s foreign minister, “to discourage the flow of people seeking to reach the United States,” a decision it made under pressure from the Castro regime.

I spent two years as a student in a real totalitarian society — the Soviet Union — and, believe me, there were no public protests about anything.

#share#What’s more, significant numbers of Cubans are returning to Cuba — to set up businesses. A record number came back last year, mainly from Europe and Latin America, to open restaurants and other small establishments, which have been permitted for several years, the result being that one-quarter of the labor force now works for private employers. Pyongyang it isn’t.

Cubans are returning from the United States too. But as a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation found last fall, many of them sign up for welfare upon arrival in the U.S., then go back to live in Cuba. They arrange with friends or relatives to send them the cash they’re essentially stealing from American taxpayers, which goes much farther on the island. This is possible because Cubans are considered refugees and thus have access to food stamps, disability, and other welfare immediately upon arrival, rather than having to wait five years, like other immigrants.

Rather than their coming for freedom, the paper found something else:

Outside welfare offices in Hialeah, the Sun Sentinel found Cuban immigrants who had arrived as recently as three days earlier, applying for benefits. They said family and friends told them about the aid before they left Cuba.

And they’ve gotten used to it:

The sense of entitlement is so ingrained that Cubans routinely complained to their local congressman about the challenge of accessing U.S. aid — from Cuba.

Here’s one example of how it works:

One woman told Miami immigration attorney Grisel Ybarra that her grandmother and two great aunts came to Florida, got approved for benefits, opened bank accounts and returned to Cuba. Month after month, the woman cashed their government checks — about $2,400 each time — sending half to the women in Cuba and keeping the rest.

When a welfare agency questioned the elderly ladies’ whereabouts this summer, the woman turned to Ybarra, a Cuban American. She told Ybarra her grandmother refused to come back, saying: “With the money you sent me, I bought a home and am really happy in Cuba.”

If you’re “really happy in Cuba,” you never should have been let in under the special circumstances of the Cuban Adjustment Act in the first place.

Cuban Americans are beginning to speak out. Roberto Pizano, a former political prisoner in Cuba who arrived decades ago, says he sees more-recent arrivals “abusing the system”:

“I know people who come to the U.S., apply for SSI and never worked in the USA,” he said. They “move back to Cuba and are living off of the hard-earned taxpayer dollars.”

Representative Carlos Curbelo and Senator Marco Rubio have introduced legislation to address this abuse. Called the Cuban Immigration Work Opportunity Act, the measure would end automatic welfare eligibility for all Cubans, reserving it only for bona fide refugees. Both were careful to point out that their legislation applied only to welfare eligibility and would not change the open-borders policy for any Cuban who can get here.

#related#But the welfare scam is merely a symptom of the immigration scam that is the Cuban Adjustment Act. If welfare access is to be limited to those Cubans fleeing persecution, what’s the rationale for admitting the others? Rubio’s statement last week upon introducing the Senate version of the bill referred to “individuals who claim to be fleeing repression in Cuba” — but they’re not claiming any such thing, and don’t have to. They’re simply regular illegal aliens taking advantage of a sweetheart deal left over from the Cold War.

It’s time to end the scam. Repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act.

— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Mark Krikorian — Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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