Friday, January 25, 2013

Is the Cuban Adjustment Act in play?

Senator Marco Rubio, who is among the Republicans seeking consensus on a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy, said last week (Café Fuerte) that it is “impossible” to treat this issue “and not talk about whether or not there should be changes in the Cuban Adjustment Act.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, interviewed by Café Fuerte, said something similar.

So there may be a debate after all over the treatment of Cubans under U.S. immigration policy.

But apparently it will be a debate where Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen misrepresent that policy and the conduct of their constituents who take advantage of it.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen argues that we need a law that prohibits Cuban immigrants who enter the United States by availing themselves of the Cuban Adjustment Act from returning to Cuba for visits.  “One can’t affirm that one would be persecuted for political reasons in Cuba and, at the same time, return for visits.”

Senator Rubio said, “If people come to this country seeking exile and then they are traveling to Cuba 10 or 12 times a year, then it makes it difficult for us to go back to Washington and justify the special status that Cubans have…this does put the Cuban Adjustment Act in danger.” 

The idea that Cubans admitted under the Cuban Adjustment Act “affirm that one would be persecuted for political reasons in Cuba” or “come to this country seeking exile” (whatever that means) is simply false. 

Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen are accusing their constituents of being hypocrites, based on a claim that these immigrants have never made. 

There are two categories of immigrants – refugees and asylees – who are admitted to the United States by claiming a fear of persecution if they were to return home, and after the United States judges that claim to be well founded.  If these people are admitted and then return home, they may face a legal problem because they effectively invalidate their claim of fear of persecution.

But very few Cubans enter the United States by claiming that they fear persecution if they were to return to Cuba. 

In 2011, only 2,954 Cubans were admitted as refugees or asylees.

The rest were admitted because U.S. policy is to grant about 20,000 immigrant visas a year to Cubans, or because they showed up at the border or made it to a U.S. shore (10,452 last year), or otherwise arrived without an immigrant visa and were “paroled” in pursuant to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which puts them on the path to a green card a year later. 

That’s 30,000 Cubans who entered last year without stating a claim to persecution. 

Senator Rubio has made no legislative proposal.  Rep. Ros-Lehtinen seems to follow the idea put forward by former Rep. David Rivera and echoed recently by some flamboyant Cuban-American groups who warned that a “red super-Mariel” may result from Cuba’s new migration law.  She talks of restricting travel of Cuban immigrants, adding a new U.S. restriction on the free movement of people at a time when Cuba’s 50-year restrictions are falling by the wayside.

It’s a great idea to debate this part of U.S. immigration policy, but someone else had better lead it.

For more, including comments by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, see this article in El Nuevo Herald.

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