Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Temporary" refugees and immigration policy

A reader asked if there are any Cuba provisions in the immigration bill that passed the Senate today (see link in this article from Politico).

There are none, which is is a little surprising because last January Senator Rubio said it was going to be “impossible” to debate a comprehensive immigration bill “and not talk about whether or not there should be changes in the Cuban Adjustment Act.”

But on Tuesday the Senator noted that Cuba had not come up at all in the immigration debate.  Asked by the St. Petersburg Times how he would propose to change the treatment of Cuban nationals in U.S. immigration law, he said it is “something I need to study more carefully.”

When Senator Rubio and others were making their statements early in the year, I supposed that they wanted to do what former Rep. David Rivera had proposed, which was to punish Cubans who would travel back to Cuba before acquiring citizenship, i.e. in their first five or six years after arriving (see here and here).  We’ll see if Rep. Diaz-Balart puts a Cuba provision into the House bill.

Senator Rubio on Tuesday repeated his old canard about his own constituents, saying that it is “very difficult to justify someone’s status as an exile and refugee when a year and a half after they get here they are flying back to that country over and over again.”

There’s no such thing as “exile” status in U.S. immigration law.  As for refugees and asylees, the only categories of immigration where admission to the United States depends on stating a well founded fear of persecution, they account for only about ten percent of Cuban immigrants. 

But those facts don’t stop Senator Rubio from inferring that his constituents are hypocrites.  He repeatedly accuses them of violating a claim they never made.

When it comes to actual refugees, he does have a point.  But what would he do with a new type of refugee, the family of the late dissident leader Oswaldo Paya, who recently came to the United States? 

At first blush it appeared that they had pulled up stakes and abandoned Cuba for good. 
But Rosa Maria Paya, Oswaldo’s daughter, said that isn’t so. 

“We arrived as political refugees, but we are here on a temporary basis,” she said in Miami.  She says there is “no restriction of any kind” on their returning to Cuba.  “We could do it.  We have our Cuban passports valid for two years.” 

First, welcome to America.

Now let’s figure out what this means for Senator Rubio and the problem he is wrestling with.

The liberalization of Cuba’s policy regarding its own citizens’ travel abroad has resulted in many dissidents traveling abroad to speak their mind, gather support, learn, and just see the world.

The Paya family takes things to a new level by having residences in both places and intending to move back and forth as they see fit.  (And, incidentally, being eligible for a whole set of U.S. government benefits especially during their first year: health care, food assistance, education and job training assistance, and more.)

As Alejandro Armengol puts it:

“Thus the opposition has just brought about the possibility of entering and leaving Cuba by season, keeping homes in both countries and letting the time pass and the Castro brothers die, and then seeing if the future in Cuba is brighter or darker.  To say it in Cuban: to dodge the storm, any storm.  Meantime, with residency assured thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act, the young ones start a new life and build a future in a country that has suddenly converted itself into a sort of foster home for children and a social services agency for those of advanced age.  All this without a need to make any commitment to the nation that serves as the country of adoption for purposes of benefits, but not for purposes of making a citizenship commitment.”

Harsh, but true.

Back to Senator Rubio. 

The Payas say they are going to continue their political activism, and surely Senator Rubio wouldn’t want to deny them the opportunity to return to Cuba to do that.  So he could propose that we return to the Bush era of restricting Cuban-American travel, but this time with a new exemption for the Payas and others who engage in the right kind of political activity in Cuba.  There could be new monitoring mechanisms and licensing requirements to prevent abuse.  Maybe we could hire officials from Cuba who used to evaulate applications for exit permits, examine letters of invitation, investigate and interview potential travelers, etc.  They have experience administering travel controls, and lots of time on their hands.

Or, more seriously, he could come to terms with the changes in his own neighborhood. 

The Cuban American community is not an exile community anymore; those who consider themselves exiles are now only one part of the community.  With the freedom afforded by new policies of both governments, it turns out that many Cubans like to go back and forth.  And a growing number – the Payas being the latest example – like having a home on both sides.  Exile is a state of mind, and it is none of U.S. government’s business to impose it on Cuban immigrants through our immigration policy.

On the other hand, Senator Rubio’s speeches on freedom and limited government are really terrific.

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