Memo From Middle America | Will Cubans Lose Their U.S. Immigration Privileges? Or Is The Rest Of The Third World Just Catching Up?
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Obama’s much-ballyhooed opening of U.S.-Cuban relations hasn’t amounted to much yet. But some Cubans are actually fearful that the regularization of relations might lead to Cubans being treated like any other immigrant to the United States. They don’t like that idea very much.

Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and the resulting exodus, Cubans have received special treatment via the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act and its various revisions. These include:

  • The “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy—Cubans intercepted at sea are sent back to Cuba, but if they can get on U.S. soil, they aren’t deported and can apply for legal permanent residence and citizenship.
  • Cubans can also be officially admitted as refugees.
  • Cubans are eligible for the diversity lottery.
  • Cubans also have their own special lottery, officially designated as the Special Cuban Migration Program [SCMP]. The last registration period was in the late 1990s but it could be re-opened at any time.
  • The Meissner Memo, issued by former INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, mandates that even if Cubans sneak into the United States, they are entitled to the rights and privileges of the Cuban Adjustment Act.
How do they get here? One way is for Cubans to simply apply at the “U.S. Interests Section” in Havana. When I was last there, my taxi driver pointed it out so it’s not exactly a secret.

However, more often Cubans simply enter the United States any way they can. They are not required to enter the U.S. through a recognized port of entry. Indeed, the openness of the United States to Cubans remains a grievance of the Cuban government even in the current negotiations.

Cuban officials have long said they have serious concerns about the Cuban Adjustment Act and the U.S. wet foot/dry foot policy, and they repeated those concerns at U.S.-Cuba immigration talks in Havana. “They constitute the main incentive and the principal stimulus for illegal immigration and also for illegal entries” into the United States, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, who led the Cuban delegation to the talks, told reporters… Vidal, who heads the Cuban Foreign Relations Ministry’s North American division, complained Wednesday that U.S. migration policies promote people smuggling. Recently, authorities have found Cubans trying to get to the United States illegally with fake migratory documents, she said. “Cuba aspires to a normal relationship with the United States in the broadest sense but also in the area of migration,” said Vidal.

[Havana: U.S. immigration policy for Cubans needs to change, by Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald, January 21, 2015]

Get that? Unlike Mexico, Cuba is criticizing the U.S. for being too lenient with our immigration policy. And the importance of our policy has only increased because of the changing political situation.

After the simultaneous announcements on December 17th by Obama and Raul Castro, departures of Cuban balseros (rafters) increased dramatically because they wanted to get to America before our country changes our Cuban immigration policy.

As International Business Times reported on January 13th:

The U.S. Coast Guard reported last week that it was seeing an uptick in the number of migrants trying to reach the U.S. by sea, a trend that began in mid-December, around the time President Obama and President Raul Castro made their historic announcement to resume ties. The Coast Guard said it intercepted 481 Cubans immigrating to the U.S. by boat in December, a 117 percent increase from the same period in 2013.

[Cuban Immigration By Boat Surges Amid Fears Of Policy Changes, by Brianna Lee]

And this is just the beginning. Though Americans are used to the image of Cubans fleeing their island on makeshift rafts, the majority of contemporary immigrants travel to America through third countries such as Spain. In the last quarter of 2014, known Cuban arrivals to Miami were more than double those of the same period in 2013.

But there’s a lesser known entryway into the United States—Mexico. Indeed, the Florida Sun Sentinel now reports that the majority of Cubans without visas “walk across the Mexican border.” [Mexican border now a major entry point for Cuban migrants, by Mike Clary, February 8, 2015]

If Cubans interdicted at sea have a “wet foot”, and if they land they have a “dry foot”, what do you call a Cuban who enters the U.S. via Mexico? There’s a name for that too – “dusty foot”.

In the last quarter of 2014, the quantity of Cubans known to have arrived to the U.S.-Mexican border was a 50% increase over that same period of the previous year. One of the most common ways Cubans do this is to go to Ecuador, a country that requires no visa to enter. A staggering 100,000 Cubans have gone to Ecuador during the past six years. (For perspective, the population of Cuba is only some 11.2 million.) From Ecuador, the Cubans go to Mexico, and thence to the U.S.

Jorge Duany of Florida International University told the Sun-Sentinel that he predicts that regardless of what happens to the Cuban Adjustment Act or the Embargo, that Cuban emigration is going to increase: "The economic conditions, the living conditions in Cuba, don't seem to improve, and the force of family ties remains strong. I don't see any indication that will change."

A lot of American conservatives are still stuck in the Cold War. But today’s Cuban emigrants are not all dissidents fleeing communist tyranny. Many of them are just people who want more money. That’s understandable, but doesn’t make them “refugees.”

Even Marco Rubio has admitted that many Cuban “refugees” aren’t really refugees at all. IBT’s Brianna Lee, in the report linked above, quoted him:

“I don’t criticize anyone who wants to go visit their mom or dad or their dying brother or sister in Cuba. But I am telling you it gets 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.”
Thanks to the Obama Administration, immigrants from other countries are catching up to the kind of special treatment Cubans have enjoyed all these decades. According to law, Cubans still have a better deal than Mexicans or Central Americans. But because of an almost non-existent deportation effort, the Dream Act (never actually passed, but implemented by Obama) and various other de facto amnesties, the Cuban treatment is no longer all that unusual. Indeed, the relatives of the Central American “refugees” are now being imported to the United States. Even a Cuban immigrant’s treatment can’t compare to that.

Therefore, the MSM furor over the Cubans really misses the point. The real issue is why all potential Third World immigrants are being turned into VIPs while Americans feel like they are being disenfranchised.

It’s understandable that Cubans want a say about upcoming changes in their immigration status. But Americans should at least have a say in what their own country will look like too. After all, we have nowhere else to run to.

American citizen Allan Wall (email him) moved back to the U.S.A. in 2008 after many years residing in Mexico. Allan's wife is Mexican, and their two sons are bilingual. In 2005, Allan served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his articles are archived here ; his News With Views columns are archived here; and his website is here.

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