The Paradoxes of Cuban Immigration
News from Cuba | Thursday, 24 January 2013
by Fernando Ravsberg*
The opening of Cuba immigration policy could be a mortal blow to the Cuban Adjustment Act, the US law that grants residency to all Cubans who step onto American soil, under the assumption that they fled communism.
Hundreds of thousands of economic emigrants from the island settled in the US, primarily in Miami, thanks to this legislation that assumes all of them were politically persecuted, even though many of them return to Cuba every year on vacation.
The first to notice the contradiction was former president George W. Bush. However, instead of adapting the law to reality, he tried to adapt reality to the law by limiting travel to the island by the supposed exiles and forcing them to reduce the amount of money [they] could send to Cuba.
The response by Cuban immigrants was to vote in greater numbers for the Democrat Barack Obama, who as a candidate campaigning in Florida announced that he would remove the restrictions imposed by Republicans on travel and remittances.
Obama made good on his promises and immediately the number of visits increased. Each year, half a million “exiles” show up in the Havana airport, most traveling in some of the direct daily flights coming from Miami, while others arrive via third countries.
Up until now it was impossible to have US residency without sacrificing one’s Cuban residency because Washington requires Cubans to live in the country one year and one day, while Havana required travelers to return to the island after 11 months and 29 days.
Cuban immigration reform has now extended the period. Cuban citizens can now remain out of the country for 24 months, meaning they have sufficient time to obtain US residency without losing their Cuba residency. They can now live in each country for a while if they wish.
In Miami, at the headquarters of the Brigada militar 2506 (the same outfit that in 1961 unsuccessfully tried to invade Cuba), several anti-Castro groups are asking the US government not to grant residency to everyone who requests it. They argue that this would touch off “a disturbing and unaffordable social, political and economic avalanche.”
“If they don’t change the existing laws, we’re going to go through the difficult and dramatic experience of a red Super Mariel,” one of them said, referring to the departure of 125,000 Cubans from the island in 1980. They themselves are questioning how the Cuban Adjustment Act has been applied to date.
Cuban-American Congressperson Mario Diaz Balart confessed that his “colleagues (in Congress) always insist that if they come to the United States and we allow them to enter, this is because of the special circumstances of them having been persecuted, but if they return to Cuba [that proves] no one is persecuting them.”
The opening of Cuban immigration has had such an impact in the US that Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen went on to say, “I don’t know what will happen to the Cuban Adjustment Act. We need to examine it to see if it still meets the objective it was aimed at accomplishing.”
Ros-Lehtinen told reporters that this legislation was not designed “for people claiming to be Cuban [exiles] but who want to travel back and forth between the US and Cuba to vacation on the island,” referring to the half-million immigrants who travel there every year.
It seems they’re proposing a return to the days of George W. Bush in order to forcibly prevent people from visiting Cuba. This would be another attempt to fit reality into a framework of political propaganda, even at the cost of cutting ties between members of Cuban families.
If there exists legislation that allows Cubans to obtain residency in the US, that’s great. Hopefully it will be expanded to the rest of Latin Americans.
Likewise, it doesn’t seem ethical or humanitarian for Cuban-American officials to now demand the elimination of that law in order to sabotage the right of their countrymen to emigrate.
What’s more, it is extremely paradoxical that those who criticized the Cuban government for restricting immigration are those who are now questioning its relaxation of restrictions, just as it’s paradoxical that those who demanded Havana allow its citizens the freedom to travel are now requesting that Washington shut the doors.
(*) BBC Mundo.