Relatively few Cuban migrants come to the United States as refugees or asylees, that is by claiming that they would be persecuted if they were to return home.
But all Cubans receive a package of social service benefits that the U.S. government affords to refugees – benefits provided on the supposition that a person who fled Iraq in haste or came here straight from a refugee camp needs help getting started in our country.
That refugee assistance goes to all Cuban migrants even if they lived in a third country and built up the means to care for themselves, or even if they have family here that will care for them.
It’s an extraordinary benefit, and the federal government almost stopped providing it to a segment of Cuban immigrants – but the Florida state government protested and Washington caved.
So everyone will go on getting the full package of benefits: Medicaid, food stamps, English language and vocational classes, job training, child care.
What the federal government had in mind – briefly – was to change the treatment of migrants who come under a family unification program. For example, a woman in Miami who petitions for her husband and daughter in Cuba to come join her. The federal government has been streamlining the processing of those requests, and recently decided to give the immigrants a “green card” – legal permanent resident status – upon arrival.
That would have triggered ineligibility for the benefits, but the federal government reversed course.
At least all our ironies are intact.
One Cuban arrives penniless on a raft, another arrives after spending 20 years living in Caracas, and we provide both the same treatment.
We maintain economic sanctions on Cuba while Cuban Americans (and I applaud them) fill dozens of Miami-to-Havana flights weekly and send hundreds of millions in remittances.
And for all the huffing and puffing about our hard-line policy, the open-door immigration policy combined with public assistance gives enterprising Cubans a huge incentive to change their own circumstances by leaving, rather than to change their country by staying.
At the Central Committee, they should be quite grateful.
Here are stories that provide lots of background, including on Florida officials' complaints, from El Nuevo Herald, Cafe Fuerte, and the Miami Herald. Here’s a comment on the migration policy from Babalu. And this report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service provides some information on benefits and the number of migrants in various categories.