Cuban Adjustment Act Needs Adjustment

By Jesús Arboleya Cervera (Progreso Weekly)

progresoHAVANA TIMES – In statements to the press, Cuban-American legislators Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Joe García have just staked two radically different positions regarding the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Passed in 1966, this law states that Cuban-origin people who entered the United States after Jan. 1, 1959, may obtain legal residence one year after entering the country, which allows them to apply for U.S. citizenship a lot faster than immigrants from other countries.

According to García, the first Democratic Cuban-American elected to Congress in Miami, the Adjustment Act has been the “miracle” that has allowed Cuban immigrants to integrate “almost immediately” into U.S. society. Therefore, he decidedly favors that it remain in effect.

Republican lawmker Ros-Lehtinen, assuming the same stance already taken by other representatives of her party, proposes to eliminate from the law’s benefits anyone who decides to visit his or her country of origin.

“One cannot say that he is persecuted for political reasons in Cuba and at the same time return [to the island] for a visit,” says Ros-Lehtinen, reasonably enough. Except that rather than recognize that such persecution does not exist, she hopes that the myth will be perpetuated through coercive measures.

I believe that not even the Congresswoman herself can prove the legitimacy of her proposal and – although anything can happen in U.S. policy towardCuba – it is most likely that this debate will lead to the Act’s elimination rather than to its reform.

That would serve the interests of the far right, whose true objective is to delay the access of the new immigrants to local politics and thus deny potential strength to a sector of the electorate whose majority has rejected the far right.

Although García’s past links him to the Cuban-American National Foundation and though he is part of the machine that controls the political life of the Cuban-American enclave, he appears to present a position that differs from the traditional far right’s. Therein lies the novelty of his message, never mind that – to justify himself – he raises the tired old argument that he is motivated by the fact that “the situation in Cuba” has not changed.

It is not just a question that he is a Democrat. Although other Cuban-American politicians have spoken with a similar Republican accent, he won his seat in Congress by defending the agenda of facilitating the contacts of émigrés and their descendants with Cuban society.

Also, he seems to be intelligent enough to understand the anachronism of stances that have no foundation in reality and contradict the trends that will surely predominate in the political future of the Cuban-American community.
At least, we should give Joe Garcia the benefit of the doubt when he tells us: “I have matured. A long time has passed and I have learned.”

The paradox is that – for other reasons and with other purposes – the Cuban-American far right has finally coincided with the Cuban government in criticizing a law that from its inception showed a political intention that transcends the immigration problem and, because of its contents and functions, has no parallel in the history of the United States.

Add to that the fact that, with the objective of destabilizing Cuban society, the Act has encouraged illegal immigration, inasmuch as it protects those who enter the United States in abnormal ways. This contradicts U.S. immigration rules and even the very words of the Adjustment Act, which calls for those rules to be enforced.

Perhaps no other media construction has been so effective in justifying U.S. belligerence against Cuba as this spurious label of “political refugees” given to Cuban émigrés. The far right realizes that its position is being threatened when it is shown that those émigrés can travel freely to the island to rejoin their relatives and friends, invest in small businesses and (why not?) “drink mojitos and dance the rumba” in the country of their alleged persecutors. In addition, those opportunities become easier as a result of the immigration reforms recently made by the government in Havana.

Because of the collapse of the political manipulation that labeled “political exiles” people who obviously are not “political exiles,” and because the United States, for its own good, makes a responsible decision to curb the illegal and uncontrolled flow of immigrants from Cuba, I see no reason for the Cuban government to feel threatened by the existence of a law whose stated objective is to provide facilities for the settlement of people who arrive legally on U.S. shores.

In a sense, the Act could even serve as a pattern for an immigration policy that could be more compassionate toward all immigrants.

Garcia is right when he predicts that it will be difficult to maintain the Cuban Adjustment Act, not only because there are some “who act against their own people,” as he has said, but also because, due to the transformations in the Cuban-American community and Cuban society itself, the Act is no longer functional for the subversive aims that created it.

As a result, the debate over the Adjustment Act is only a example of everything that concerns U.S. policy toward Cuba.

At a recent academic event in Cuba that involved the presence of several U.S. researchers, a recurring topic was “what the U.S. loses by not maintaining normal relations with Cuba.” From that analysis emerged a long list of opportunities, from the possibilities of trade to the battle against drug trafficking.

I chose to turn the question around and discuss “what the United States has gained by not having normal relations with Cuba.” From my point of view, it has not been a senseless policy that has ignored Washington’s hegemonic interests, like some people think. In addition to creating innumerable obstacles for the revolutionary process over the years, it managed to isolate Cuba from the rest of the continent and established the limits of U.S. domination over the region.

Evidently, although it didn’t achieve its final objective (destroying the Cuban Revolution), that policy was convenient at the time. The problem is that it is no longer sustainable for reasons beyond Washington’s control, and the same happens with the immigration policy toward Cuba.

The dilemma for the Cuban-American far right is therefore not only to try to change the rules of the game by modifying a law that no longer serves its interests, but also to worry about the degree to which its stances are no longer convenient for U.S. policy.

The whole debate is just an expression of the far right’s own decadence.

2 thoughts on “Cuban Adjustment Act Needs Adjustment

  • American citizens are threatened with losing their Social Security and Medicare because politicians say we are going broke. How much longer do we need to support more Cubans coming into the U.S. for the past 47 years?

    Last January, 2013, Cuba ended its practice of requiring an exit permit to leave the island, and said all Cubans could obtain a passport, potentially increasing the exodus.

    For Cubans who want to immigrate to the United States, the hardest part is getting here. If they arrive at Mexican borders they show their Cuban I.D. and birth certificate, this is the dry foot policy. Wet Foot is landing by boat and setting foot on U.S. shores to receive same benefits from the U.S. government.

    Since 1966, they’ve essentially been granted automatic refugee status upon arrival. The Cuban Adjustment Act was enacted then to address the legal status of 300,000 Cubans who’d fled Fidel Castro’s socialist revolution.

    Almost half a century later, the Cubans who come to America rarely claim to be victims of political persecution. They want a better economic future, or to join family members already here, or both — just like most of the people who want to immigrate from anywhere else.

    Unlike most immigrants, though, Cubans don’t have to wait years for a visa, or sneak across the border illegally. Once they’re here, they’re fast-tracked to legal residency, with a clear path to citizenship in five years.

    It’s a sore subject as Congress considers what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants to whom the system has not been so generous.

    It’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify it for my colleagues when there are people who come to the United States … when they are traveling to Cuba 25 and 30 times a year” Rubio told journalists recently.

    There have been attempts through the years to change or abolish the act. Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) gave Congress an opportunity to repeal the CAA with a bill he introduced in July 2006, but the law remains in place.

    Those questions burgeoned after reforms to Havana’s migration system on Jan. 14 created the possibility that more Cubans would be arriving in the United States, obtaining U.S. residency and then returning to the island quickly enough to retain their
    residency there.


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