Monday, March 10, 2008

Exiles, immigrants, and visits home

Are Cuban Americans hypocrites for wanting to return to Cuba to visit their family?

That suggestion is part of the current argument against liberalizing rules for Cuban American family visits, an issue that is likely to be debated a great deal this year.

The idea is that there’s a real inconsistency if you claim to be a refugee fleeing communism, and then turn around and visit the country you fled. I have heard Reps. Diaz Balart and others make variations of this argument.

The problem is that in proportion to all Cubans who immigrate, relatively few come here as refugees in a legal sense – that is, relatively few are admitted by establishing a credible claim that they would be persecuted if they return.

The vast majority enter as normal immigrants, or by winning the visa lottery, or they arrive without a visa and are admitted once they reach a Florida shore or present themselves at the Mexican border.

The average annual number of refugees admitted from Cuba has been 2,735 over the past ten years, according to government data (see Table 14 here). Throw in asylees, who are also admitted based on a persecution claim, and the number climbs to 2,854. That’s a small proportion of the approximately 20,000 Cubans who enter the United States each year.

But there’s more to the argument, beyond the false notion that Cuban Americans who want to visit the island are contradicting claims they made in order to get into the country. Where this gets interesting, and what brought me to the subject, is where it touches the issue of Cuban American identity.

If you look at the first comment to this post, I have placed an exchange that followed a February 29th post. A reader argued that Cuban Americans are exiles and, essentially, that all should behave as such.

Nothing could be more obvious than that some Cuban Americans see themselves as exiles, unwilling ever to return until socialism is gone. But others, often younger or more recent arrivals, wish to visit Cuba now and then.

Why one group’s views should be imposed on the behavior of another is beyond me.


Phil Peters said...

[as noted in the post]

Anonymous said...

you are either a refugee from communism or you aren't. refugees do not return to their country to "visit." if you are not a refugee, then you likely do not have a right to be here in the U.S.

Live with it....

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Phil Peters said...
That is an argument that Reps. Diaz-Balart have both used, and it insinuates that Cuban Americans who return to visit their families are hypocrites.

But it's not accurate. You can look it up; in recent years at most a few thousand Cubans come here as refugees, out of 20,000 or more who come each year.

The vast majority just show up without a visa and are paroled in, without having to make any claim of persecution, which would make them a refugee or asylee. (If they had refugee status they would not need parole.) They benefit from a unique policy, but under that policy they have every right to be here.

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Anonymous said...

Phil, our entire immigration policy towards Cuba is based on the assumption that people are fleeing a communist dictatorship 90miles from our shores. If you make a mockery of that assumption by allowing people to return "to visit" you eliminate that presumption and the special favor with which Cubans are treated. Many Cubans rightly are offended by the label "migrants" because it cuts at the core of their identity as exiles. "Migrants" can routinely return to their homeland; exile presumes you don't.

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Phil Peters said...
Anon, I understand that many Cubans here consider themselves exiles and won't return until things change.

But many others think otherwise, as they demonstrate when they go back to visit their families. Had they been required to claim a fear of persecution (which would make them refugees or asylees) then I agree you could call them hypocrites for wanting to visit. But for the large majority of Cubans who come here, that's not the case. They made no such claim; many simply won the lottery or came via smugglers. Again, you can look it up.

I don't think it's reasonable to expect them to conform to your concept that all Cuban immigrants are exiles and have to behave a certain way. One might even say it's none of your business. Certainly, US immigration policy makes no such imposition on them, although it does restrict visits to once every three years.

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil,

I feel this paragraph is slightly misleading:

"The problem is that in proportion to all Cubans who immigrate, relatively few come here as refugees in a legal sense – that is, relatively few are admitted by establishing a credible claim that they would be persecuted if they return."

While I do see your point, the fact is that the moment these folks (those who take off in a clandestine manner for example) take to the water, shouuld they be returned, indeed they will usually (though not necessarily always) suffer political reprucussions, the inability to work due to blacklisting, intimidation and "actos de repudio," oftentimes jail as well.

So, it's a catch-22 really. Perhaps some of these folks were in no direct danger of overt persecution while on the island - perhaps they went about their lives quietly, not uttering a word against the government but - the moment those rafts hit the water, the situation changes entirely.


Anatasio Blanco

Phil Peters said...

Ok, Anastasio, but even if you take all that to the worst case, it still doesn't make them hypocrites if they make it here and wish to return to visit and help their family. It makes them normal immigrants (who came in an unusual way).

I realize you're not making the argument, but the idea that those who return home are an affront to the exile identity, or are hypocritical, seems to me to be pretty contorted argument to oppose any change in travel rules.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Phil. Your post is spot in.

For example:
you are either a refugee from communism or you aren't. "

this is patently false, and displays the utter hubris of cubans who emigrated here in teh 1960s!!! (of course they are the ones that control the PACs, think tanks, etc).

What about a cuban who marries an American? Many are here like that. They, like other categories of recent cuban immigrants to USA, leagally leaves Cuba for America, to live here permanently( as you point out with empricial evidence).

This person (cuban) has the unequivocial right to return home periodically for visits with parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. This right is moral, human and especially important in the context of medical emergencies, aging parents and blossoming grand children who desperately want to knwo their Cuban grandparents before they pass.

Anonymous said...

family trumps politics!

You hit the issue of identity on the head. One group (historic exiles) are trying to push their identity on the new immigrants, many of whom come here to live in the USA via lottery, mexico, marriage, sports, etc. The majority if these immigrants (from the cuban side) are free to come and go (to cuba) as they please.

They of course are being denied ironically that right by US side.

Anonymous said...

Essentially Phil, I actually agree with your arguments. Blood indeed is thicker than politics but, I can certainly understand the arguments from much of the exile community citing a sort of double-standard. I think it might be fear.

I'll admit that I myself regularly struggle with issues like that of family visits. I always thought that the original laws limiting family visits to once a year were acceptable. When the Bush administration took it upon itself to change the human genome and state that aunts, uncles and cousins were not considered family (something that any Latin American would most likely decry as obscene), my jaw dropped.

That said, the fear that I mentioned, comes out of the idea that "if we give a little on the policy, what happens if NOTHING changes - what happens if we strengthen the grip of the dictatorship as opposed to weakening it?"

That is the underlying fear and I think folks need understand where this opinion comes from.

I suppose you could say that I truly do see both sides of the argument and can sympathize with either end of the spectrum.


Anonymous said...

you can disagree, get mad, stomp your feet about it, but the fact is that 95% of Cubans who entered the United States have done so under special treatment based on the political situation on the island. If Cubans are now free to come and go as they please "to visit" it removes the entire justification for the relative ease with which Cubans can enter the US. You can't have it both ways; either you have special treatment of Cubans or else you make our immigration policy consistent with every other country in the hemisphere...Which is it?

Phil Peters said...

They are all free "to visit" Cuba now, albeit with new restrictions since 2004, provided they have family there. So if you're worried about inconsistency, that problem has been there for a long time. If you're looking to make immigration policy toward Cuba internally consistent, or consistent with the policy we apply to other countries, all I can say is, good luck.

Anonymous said...

Certainly inconsistencies abound in U.S.-Cuba relations. That's going to happen when you're dealing with a dictatorship that treats its citizens as its personal property. There's nothing "normal" about it. Yes, Cubans have long been able to go back without threatening the integrity of overall policy. But in the last several years, the number of visits exploded to such a degree that the regime turned it into a cash cow industry and it did turn into a mockery of overall U.S. policy -- including immigration. Those who think they have some sort of "right" to abuse U.S. immigration privileges have to answer the question: do you give up the special privileges in return for the ability to go back and forth at will to Cuba (ie, under a normal immigration policy that will assuredly keep more Cubans in Cuba). Because you can't have it both ways...

Phil Peters said...

I think we have made our points. I’ll take it as progress that we are no longer arguing that Cubans who arrived recently have a responsibility to act in a way that fits earlier immigrants’ sense of their own identity

theCardinal said...

Recent arrivals should not feel obligated to act a certain way. It's not their fault that they are taking advantage of a system that has not adjusted to the times. The ones that have to change their behavior are the three Cuban American Reps. Either update the CAA to reflect current reality - more Cubans are economic rather than political refugees - or shut the f* up. They're caught in a bind Cuban-Americans don't want to give up the special status so they can't cut up the CAA but many can't stand the non-political immigrants.

googlebox said...

Cubans living in the US can only return to cuba for a period not exceeding 21 days. Cubans who want to return to re-establish residence in Cuba can do so: only if the Cuban Government issue a special permit to the Cuban national who wishes to do so. This permit is sistematically denied to every person and only granted under very few circumstances.

An emigrant can return to his/her country of origin and re-establish
permanent residence onece there whenever he/she wishes to do so.

Cuban-Americans cannot re-establish residense in Cuba just because they would want to do so.Even if they want to do so.

That is the difference between Exiles and Emigrants. An emigrant can always return. An exile cannot.

Anonymous said...

First of all the fact that they technically don't have to claim political asylum anymore doesn't change the reason we have a visa lottery in the first place. Cuba has a special circumstance that our government recognizes. The visa lottery was put in place to stop a humanitarian crisis.

Secondly, this whole issue is a canard because you can't produce a single Cuban who has been fined by OFAC for making a family visit to Cuba outside of the current regulations.

And lastly sir, laws are about imposing standards of behavior. I like to fly down the expressway at 150 MPH but someone else has imposed their view that it's dangerous to do so and so it's illegal. We have a trade embargo with Cuba. The Federal government is entrusted in the constitution with the authority and responsibility for conducting foreign policy. The courts have upheld the travel ban as a legitimate leg on the stool of sanctions against Cuba.

Get over it. It ain't changing any time soon.

MT said...

What really bothers me is how some Cubans who thru certain charity churches come to this country claiming political asylum. They get a resident card they go on welfare., they get all kinds of free benefits they never worked here or pay taxes and they go back to visit Cuba.
Yet the Cubans who came here , worked hard for many years retired and are on a fixed income, don't qualify for any free benefits and most cannot travel even within the US.
I think something is wrong with this picture. If you left Cuba
you should not go back especially if your free loafing of here, can you take a plane {expensive} to a country who you left because of basic human rights.
Please someone explain this to me!!!

MT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.