America’s favourite immigrants

Autumn 2006

Salim Lamrani, Sal Andres Gomez and Natasha Hickman look at how the facts are twisted and immigration figures ignored to suit Cuba’s critics

In March 2006, almost half a million Hispanics of various origins took to the streets in cities across the US in mass protests demanding a change in immigration laws that would allow them to become legal residents.

Haitian, Mexican, Colombian and Salvadorean flags were held aloft together with numerous others representing the countries of some 37 million Hispanics both legal and illegal who live in the United States. But, despite the one million Cuban-Americans resident in the US, Cuban flags were conspicuous by their absence. For uniquely among Hispanic communities, Cuban’s have no need to protest for legal residency, the majority already enjoying legal status in the US.

If you’re from Cuba and can get your foot on American soil, your citizenship is virtually instantaneous.

One of the consistent policies of Washington’s aggression against Cuba has been promoting legal and illegal emigration from the island to the United States.

Since November 1966, 39 years ago, the Cuban Adjustment Act has been the weapon by which the US has achieved this destabilising policy. It has not only been used to steal Cuba’s scientists, professionals, technicians and other skilled individuals - especially in the early years of the Revolution - , but it has also served as a reserve weapon, both politically to encourage illegal migration, but also to provoke a migratory crisis to justify an eventual US military aggression. (The US has stated that a mass migration from Cuba to the US would be treated as an act of war.)

It is also accompanied by a brutal economic war, through the blockade implemented by the United States against Cuba since 1960 and which greatly affects the population and is another factor that encourages illegal migration.

The Cuban Adjustment Act(CAA) provides automatic permanent residency for almost all Cubans arriving legally or illegally after one year and one day in the US. And under the “dry feet/wet feet” policy, rooted in the outdated Act, any Cuban setting foot on US soil is immediately granted leave to remain too.

No immigrant from any other nation has this privilege.

While for Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and especially Mexicans and Haitians, Washington’s laws have increasingly meant fewer possibilities to integrate into American society, for Cubans the policy has been quite different.

During the 1960s, the United States spent over a billion dollars on the Cuban Refugee Program, which sought to help settle, find jobs, and cover the expenses of any Cuban who arrived in that country complaining about socialism.

When it comes to immigrants seeking refuge, the U.S. government’s central concern is politics, not oppression.

When the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 1991, tens of thousands of Haitians fled when death squads unleashed terror on Aristide supporters.

When they boarded boats, risking their lives on the ocean voyage, U.S. immigration officials intercepted the asylum seekers and sent them back. The U.S.--an ally of decades of Haitian strongmen previous to the election of Aristide--dubbed the asylum seekers economic refugees, condemning them to their fate back in Haiti.

Media and critics point to the “large” number of Cubans who have emigrated to the United States as evidence of the lack of legitimacy of the Cuban government. The international media carefully avoid detailed analysis of the 180 years of emigration statistics which exist since the facts would contradict this assertion and bring to light the deceitful and ideological nature behind their arguments.

Before the overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, the flow of immigrants from Cuba to the United States was bigger than that of Central and South America together.

In 1993, the worst moment of the Special Period (when the fall of the Soviet bloc devastated the Cuban economy by removing its largest trading partner overnight) massive immigration into the United States would have been expected, given the geopolitical and economic situation that Cuba had to face. However, that was not the case. In effect, there were only 13,666 immigrants in 1993 compared to 17,156 from Canada, 17,241 from Jamaica, 26,818 from El Salvador - the double - 45,420 from the Dominican Republic - triple - and 126,561 from Mexico, that is, ten times more than from Cuba. That means that in 1993 Cuba occupied only the sixth place among Latin American countries as to immigration into the United States.

1994 was an important year due to the wave of “rafters”, the name given to the Cubans who tried to emigrate using rafts or improvised boats. Those events were widely spread and politicised by the international media to the extent that they were giving the impression that all Cubans were trying to leave the island. What was the reality?

In 1994,there were only 14,727 immigrants, behind Canada, Salvador, Dominican Republic and Mexico. Cuba placed fifth among Latin American countries as to immigration into the United States.

In 2003, there were only 9,304 illegal departures placing Cuba tenth in Latin America behind Peru, Canada, Haiti, Jamaica, Guatemala, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Salvador and Mexico.

Oddly enough, the other nations’ migration has never been given a political nature. For example, in 2003, El Salvador, a country of 5,75 million inhabitants - half the population of Cuba - had three times more immigrants into the United States than Cuba. However, nobody has ever used this element to accuse the Salvadoran government of being totalitarian. And in the case of the countries with more illegal migration than Cuba, there are not any US adjustment laws and that they are not suffering any economic sanctions. In spite of that, nobody has dared to use the argument of migration to describe the authorities of those countries as dictatorial regimes.

All this shows that the migratory argument is not valid in trying to present Cuba as a country whose people are trying to flee. In spite of everything, the western media continues to use it, thus showing that they only aim at ideologically stigmatizing the country.

It would be wrong to deny that there are Cuban’s who do wish to leave their country. But those that do, do so for reasons no different than those of the millions from other countries across the continent that do so in larger numbers every year. Although the statistics speak for themselves, the migration issue between Cuba and the United States continues to be in the hands of ultra-right-wing Cuba-Americans and the Neo-Conservatives, who are trying to provoke a break in the migratory agreement adopted during Clinton’s administration, which allowed for orderly and safe flow of people between the two countries.

As part of the systematic public campaign against Cuba, a spokesperson from the State Department recently said that the new wave of illegal Cuban immigrants is due to the increase of the regime’s repressive policies and the collapse of the Cuban economy.

Meanwhile, according to official figures, during the 2005 fiscal year, 3,612 Dominicans were picked up at high seas attempting to illegally reach the US (900 more than Cubans intercepted) and in 2004, 3,229 Haitians were also picked up (2,000 more than the 1,225 Cubans that fiscal year). In 2004, a total of 1,160,000 foreigners, were stopped by attempting to illegally enter the US, 93 percent of them (close to 1,080,000) were Mexicans.

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