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Cuban Migrants Get Unfair Advantage Over Other Latinos

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Cuban Migrants Get Unfair Advantage Over Other Latinos


The Cold War is over, but it still deeply distorts U.S. immigration policy.

Consider the bizarre situation at our southern border. A wave of migrants is expected to appear there, hoping for safe passage into the U.S. and an expedited path to legal status and eventually full citizenship. They will get it.

These lucky migrants won’t be Mexicans fleeing drug cartels. They won’t be Hondurans, who must endure the world’s highest murder rate. And they won’t be citizens of El Salvador, where the Peace Corps just suspended operations due to the increasing violence.

No, we deport those people.

They will be Cubans. In recent months, increasing numbers of Cubans have been leaving their island country, flying to Ecuador first and then traveling northward through Central America. They wish to migrate to the U.S., fearful that thawing diplomatic relations will end the special treatment that Cubans who leave the island have long received.

That special treatment needs to end.

The hypocrisy that is embedded in U.S. immigration law will be on full display as the Cubans begin arriving, which could happen within the next few weeks.

Since 1966, the Cuban Adjustment Act has given Cuban people an extraordinary advantage over other migrants wishing to enter the U.S. The law was originally intended as a political and humanitarian reply to communism and the oppression of Fidel Castro. No proof that a person has suffered persecution. Where he or she arrives from is enough.

When people attempt to arrive through the Florida Straits, the policy that developed was dubbed “wet foot, dry foot.” If a Cuban can get one foot on dry U.S. soil, they can stay and are offered permanent legal status in a year and many other benefits of welfare and help to restart their lives.

The benevolence of the law made sense in decades past. But a good argument can be made that many of the migrating Cubans are fleeing not persecution but economic turmoil. And in doing so, they are not any more desperate, perhaps even less so, than those fleeing the violence and poverty of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Thousands of Central Americans arrived and asked for asylum in the summer of 2014. But those people are the wrong type of Latino for our policies. Many of them are indigenous, poor and have little formal schooling. So they were held for months in detention camps at the border. Many were eventually released, free to stay the U.S. at least until their pleas for asylum status or legal residency can be assessed by an immigration judge. Raids and deportations of undocumented immigrants continue.

Meanwhile, as many as 8,000 Cubans who have been stranded in Costa Rica will soon be making their way northward through Mexico, after agreements were worked out by several Latin American governments. The Obama administration plans to open refugee screening centers in Central America, an attempt to stem the flow of non-Cuban migrants.

In this election year, especially in light of the GOP’s appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment, the migrant Cubans will present a political test.

GOP presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio, whose parents left Cuba before Castro took over, has introduced legislation to curb abuses of the American generosity toward Cubans. The Sun Sentinel of South Florida in 2015 documented cases in which Cubans claiming to be exiles were taking U.S. government benefits or committing other types of fraud, even after returning to Cuba.

How far Rubio’s legislation and the companion bill in the House will advance remains to be seen. And there is virtually no appetite in an election year to overhaul immigration for the benefit of more than just Cubans.

Amnesty is still a curse word in most GOP circles. In decades past, that didn’t matter in the case of Cubans, who could be counted on to become Republicans.

If the GOP is to have any hope of salvaging the Latino vote this presidential cycle it will have to traverse this sticky thicket, also acknowledging the needs of other Latino migrants. They have to beat back the anti-immigrant bleating of Donald Trump, as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley did in her response to the State of the Union speech.

They must vow to be just. They must promise to rewrite immigration law to weigh all humans’ needs equally and fairly, with no favor based on country of origin or likely partisan affinity. And they must not bow to nativist screeds.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.) (c) 2016, THE KANSAS CITY STAR. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

Photo: A Cuban migrant shows a U.S. flag design on the cuffs of his pants at the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua, November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

Mary Sanchez

Mary Sanchez has spent years covering immigration, schools, and other volatile beats for The Kansas City Star. She is now an editorial columnist for the Star, where she continues to offer insightful commentary on immigration, culture, and politics.

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  1. JPHALL January 15, 2016

    It will not happen till the Repugs keep losing the White House.

  2. Chuck Edelstein January 16, 2016

    Ms. Sanchez is right on target. And we should give a limited but generous number of Syrians the opportunity to move to the the US with one difference – they should be fully screened as the Cubans were not. The boat lift in the early 80’s included 15% with criminal records, some very dangerous

  3. Irishgrammy January 16, 2016

    Have known at least a half a dozen Cubans over the years, (immigrated from Cuba as children or young adults) and to a person they all thought they were entitled and had every right to come here un-questioned and fully accepted without reservation, and in fact were! They also have a negative opinion/bias towards Mexican and Central American immigrants and frankly think just like the Donald and the majority of the Republican party feel about the rest of the immigrant Hispanic community. Clearly their thinking is in great part a result of the conflict between Cuba and the US and the connection with the Eisenhower administration and the following mass immigration from Cuba in the fifties and sticking a finger in the eye of Fidel Castro, which the Republicans have exploited to their benefit especially in Florida, although I have read the younger generations of Cubans are becoming quite liberal much to the unhappiness of the Republicans….It also holds true in the reverse with Mexican Americans who feel negatively towards Cubans and what they feel is Cuban arrogance and that Cubans somehow not only feeling superior and a more acceptable choice of an immigrant but showing and voicing it as well……and with all the talk from Trump and Cruz, along with most of the list of clowns on the right, is it any wonder Mexican and Central American immigrants feel the way they do, especially now. It apparently doesn’t matter that millions of these immigrants, legal or illegal are escaping dangerous circumstances, failed states the same as Cuba was in the 50’s …….but for some inexplicable reason Republicans have no sympathy for these Central Americans or Mexicans who are trying to escape the violence and corruption in their countries as they attempt to find a way to support their families and live in safety and peace. The hate and attacks made against Mexicans/Central American people make the blind acceptance of Cuban immigrants even more of a sticking point and the apparent hypocrisy even more evident for those who want the same chance at a decent life.

    1. Independent1 January 17, 2016

      And these Cubans that your describe, along with the majority of other lovers of the Republican party, show clearly their hypocrisy – when they claim to be Christians and yet consistently fail to uphold or support one of the main tenets of Christianity: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

  4. FireBaron January 18, 2016

    Get rid of “wet foot – dry foot” and treat them like every other Hispanic Immigrant. Demand they have more loyalty to the US than to the dream of “Cuba Libre”, when they can return to Havana after Castro’s death and take over.


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