Will the Cuban Adjustment Act Change under Trump?

By Wilfredo Cancio Isla  (Café Fuerte)

Cuban rafters arriving in south Florida.
Cuban rafters arriving in south Florida.

HAVANA TIMES — Fifty years after it was implemented to protect refugees who were escaping the Communist regime, the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) has been subject to serious questioning and its permanence could be on the table as a result of immigration restrictions that president-elect Donald Trump promised during his campaign.

Attacks against the longest-standing legislation giving immigration benefits to a specific nationality in the history of the US have intensified over the last three years. This coincided with more flexible Cuban international travel regulations declared by Raul Castro’s government in 2013 – and the disproportionate increase in Cuban immigration via the Mexican border.

Since 2014, 115,808 Cubans have entered US territory without a visa at border crossing points, 93,000 of whom came during the time when relations between Havana and Washington underwent a thawing process.  When they reach the United States, Cubans receive humanitarian parole, financial aid, food coupons and medical insurance, and can change their legal status a year after their arrival.

Sea crossings from the island have also multiplied. In 2016, the migration flow thus far is 7,358 Cubans, which includes those intercepted or spotted along the Florida Strait and in neighboring areas belonging to the Atlantic and the Caribbean, as well as those who managed to reach US territory. A much higher figure than the 4,473 who made this journey last year.

Congress attacks

Trump himself was emphatic when asked his opinion about the benefits that Cubans receive just for stepping foot onto US soil.

“I don´t think that´s fair,” Trump said in an interview with the newspaper Tampa Bay Times, last July.

Attacks against the law, which has been in effect since November 1966, have intensified in Congress since last year.

Two congressmen, the Republican Paul Gosar (Arizona) and the Democrat Henry Cuellar (Texas), have presented proposals for legislation to scrap the CAA, while another bill by Florida’s representative, Carlos Curbelo, seeks to amend this law with a clause that will limit the programs aid to refugees who come in search of political asylum.

“What we need to stop is abuse of this law,” Curbelo said. “Its benefits should be reserved for those who are granted political asylum, not for economic migrants.”

Keep the law, cut the benefits

This initiative aims to close the door to the new waves of countless immigrants who declare themselves political refugees in order to get legal resident status and then regularly travel to the island, taking advantage of the benefits they have received.  This attitude has sparked disagreement and rejection on the part of Cuban emigres from years gone by.

“The Cuban Adjustment Act should be maintained as an immigrant benefit for every Cuban who decides to escape political persecution or has a lack of opportunities under an authoritarian regime,” immigration lawyer Willy Allen told YAHOO News.  “However, benefits shouldn’t be handed out to people who come here to leech off of the public system or receive aid from Social Security in a country where they have never worked.”

Curbelo’s bill is already being backed by 128 congressmen which is similar to the one that has been presented to the Senate by Cuban-American senator Marco Rubio.  According to statistics from the Congressional Budget Office, the CAA legislation amendment proposed by Curbelo and Rubio would save 2.5 billion USD in government expenditure over ten years.

However the trigger that activated public opinion with regard to the CAA was the humanitarian crisis provoked by the stampede of thousands of Cubans across Central American, at the end of last year.  Stranded for months in camps in Costa Rica and Panama, Cubans managed to slowly leave after governments in the region negotiated a solution so that they could continue on their journey towards the Mexican border in order to reach the US.

In the end, the Central American migration crisis managed to unite regional leaders who put in an unprecedented demand to the United States to get rid of the unusual benefits that Cuban immigrants receive. The war against the CAA took on regional dimensions with a letter ambassadors from nine Latin American countries asking Washington to review its immigration policy directed at Cubans.

On the negotiations table

Raul Castro’s government has placed the CAA on the negotiations table as one of the greater obstacles standing in the way of normalizing bilateral relations between Washington and Havana.

In high-level talks such as immigration discussions, the Cuban delegation has insisted on its “deep concern” about the persistence of the Cuban Adjustment Act along with two fundamental provisions in US immigration policy: the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which has allowed those who reach US soil to seek and receive residency since 1995; and the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program which was implemented in 2006 to benefit deserters of Cuban government medical missions in third countries.

Even though the White House has insisted that it has no intention of amending the CAA, the power to change or repeal this law lies exclusively with Congress, with the President being able to veto it.

However, with Trump as president, there would also be the option of voiding the “wet foot, dry foot” policy and the administrative provision “Clarification of Eligibility for Permanent Residence Under the Cuban Adjustment Act”, issued by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service on April 26th 1999.

“The same day he takes power, the President can repeal the “wet foot, dry foot” policy with a presidential decision directive.

In Trump’s hands

The 1999 memorandum is particularly significant as it allowed Cubans who entered the United States by any point to receive humanitarian parole, be eligible to change their status to legal resident and receive refugee benefits. It was precisely this order that triggered the illegal arrival of Cubans by illegal border crossing points and allowed hundreds of people, who would have otherwise remained in a legal limbo if they weren’t granted political asylum, to be processed.

If Trump goes ahead with his plan to control borders and deport people en masse, he could choose to eliminate some immigrant provisions such as the “wet foot, dry foot” policy and speed up the return of over 35,500 deportable Cubans who remain in the US.

“Given Trump’s stance against immigration, especially those without papers, it’s expected that his administration will take some action with regard to the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, considers Jorge Duany, the director of the Cuban Studies Center at Florida International University.

Duany believes that the main danger that exists with a change to immigration laws for Cuba is that this will create an even greater spike in the number of Cubans who are trying to reach US territory illegally, before they lose their current privileged treatment.

However, everything depends on the policy that the 45th US president proposes to establish with respect to the regime in Havana.


*This article was published on Yahoo News.

12 thoughts on “Will the Cuban Adjustment Act Change under Trump?

  • I would suppose that most countries are jealous of the CAA and the immigration policy that deals specifically with Cuban people, but those other countries DO NOT HAVE a communistic regime! Those people from those other countries don’t migrate here because the government makes it impossible for them to live, they come because they are hungry! Cubans do not mooch of the system, doctors migrate here, risking their lives in the treacherous seas, and work their asses off bussing tables and cleaning floors… let’s not get things twisted!

  • Good then maybe you should just stay there!!! How can people say that a Honduras or El Salvador are worse? They have freedom of speech, every move they make is NOT dictated, they are allowed to make money, food shop, kill their own animals on their farms… NOT IN CUBA! Most Cubans that come here, yes they receive government assistance but THEY DO NOT make a living off of it, they use to get on their feet in a new country where they come with NOTHING unlike some Americans that have everything available to them and choose to sit on their asses all day and make a career of living off government benefits and having babies!!!
    Let us not forget, that although some Cubans do come because their lights get shut off at night, the little food their are able to obtain goes bad, they get paid slave wages for the work they do, so they come because of need… THAT NEED DERVIVES FROM AN OPPRESSIVE GOVERNMENT or else why would doctors, lawyers, athletes, engineers jump ship so quickly when they hold such prestigious titles and professions? Let us not be blind NOR compare CUBANS to any other Latin speaking country when it comes to immigration!!!! Cubans come because they are oppressed, plain and simple!!!!!

  • Obama just abolished the wet foot/dry foot policy (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-ending-wet-foot-dry-foot-policy-allowing-cubans-reaching-us-soil-to-stay-and-receive-residency/2017/01/12/21bbaac2-d912-11e6-b8b2-cb5164beba6b_story.html?utm_term=.9c2104ab4c52). Trump will be happy with this action because he made opposition to illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign and derided the Cuban Adjustment Act and wet foot/dry foot policy as unfair last year (http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/trump-says-special-access-u-s-cuban-immigrants-wrong-n518221).

  • Then why don’t you pick Cuba and go live there?

  • Once more for the slow learner:

    Just as there are many recipes for muffins or chilli con carne, many words have more than one meaning. Your version of the word “communism” is not the same as Castro’s or Lenin’s definitions. You don’t get to tell other people their definition is wrong.

  • Cuba? Very little crime, a sense of community among the people, and free education and health care. Honduras, El Salvador? Gangs which recruit kids as young as 8 years old, extreme poverty, and massive starvation. I’ll pick Cuba any day.

  • You cannot define Cuba as communist since it does not have a democratically run economy controlled by the workers.
    This is basic economics that you should be aware of if you’re going to use the word
    “communist” academically and correctly and not as you do : as a dog-whistle, knee-jerk call to those already in your camp .
    Glad to be of help.

  • Bravo well written….history unfolds as we speak….standing rock…..is reality and the environment is of most importance…..

  • Hunduras, El Sakvador worse? no hope, persecución,no freedom of press, no internet, no human rights, no freedom
    Of association, worse that what? I guess you Mulata(o) some mojitos in the middle of the crumbling buildings make you seem the world differently

  • It’s an interesting question. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has said the CAA is still necessary because the Castro regime is still a totalitarian communist dictatorship. His Floridian colleague, Senator Marco Rubio, has said the CAA needs to be reviewed and modified to prevent abuses. He is supported in this view by the Congressman Carlos Curbelo.

    So it seems likely that some modification of the CAA will be considered, but not outright repeal. Meanwhile, there are rumours that Trump might nominate Ted Cruz to the US Supreme Court. If that’s the case, Cruz won’t have any influence in the Senate to stop any changes to the CAA.

  • Given Donald Trump’s statement that the Cuban Adjustment Act is unfair and the older Cuban voters who voted for him have called for changing the CAA, the big question is if Trump will ask Congress to amend the CAA to deny automatic benefits to Cubans with no track record of persecution, because Ted Cruz opposes any change in the law.

  • It is DEPLORABLE that Cuban refugees receive free medical insurance upon their arrival when there are native born Americans who can’t afford the insurance, even under Obamacare. The topic of immigration cannot seriously be discussed when Cubans receive preferential treatment when they come here whe others from much worse off countries like Honduras and El Salvador are sent back.

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