From ‘Murderous Law’ to New Opportunity

Changes may be coming in the Cuban Adjustment Act

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES — If Cuba had a popularity contest, I’m sure that Deputy Director of Immigration Colonel Lambert Fraga would win hands down. He has been in charge of explaining the details of the new immigration policy, and he has done a good job demonstrating that he knows how to handle words and arguments.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about Fraga is his recognition that the United States Government’s Cuban Adjustment Act is an opportunity. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time a Cuban official has made this acknowledgment publically.

This 1966 law, officially known in Cuba as the Ley Asesina (the murderous law), has been traditionally blamed for encouraging Cubans to risk their lives sailing across the Straits of Florida to reach US shores.

Nevertheless this doesn’t explain why Mexicans cross at the danger-filled desert to reach the US, or why Dominicans venture into the dreaded Paso de la Mona sea crossing without the incentive of an adjustment act (upon arriving at Puerto Rico).

The new recognition is currently being made in the specific context of the often commented upon fact that Cubans can now opt for American residency without losing their Cuban residency. As of this week, they can remain off the island for two years, which gives them the one year they need to obtain residency in the “belly of the beast” before returning to the island

“These cases,” says Fraga, “relate to those people who reach the United States and seek the coverage that is available to them under the Adjustment Act after waiting one year and a day. Now, in cases such as this, the person can be a resident in another country (in this case the United States) and maintain their Cuban residency.”

In this way the ball is now in the American court. Immediately — like Neruda, without knowing how or when — Cuban representatives affiliated with the Republican rightwing began seeking new reforms to US immigration policy, arguing that there’s a contradiction in the fact that Cubans receive relief for escaping from a “communist” country but then they return to visit it the first chance they get.

They’re correct in a strict and formally logical sense. It’s just that we can’t forget that for decades these politicians have been supporters of the Adjustment Act and that they are the ones who linked the Helms Burton Act to it in such a way that it is impossible to change it without affecting the totality of that law.

In the short term, it’s predictable that the executive will make some minor regulatory reforms, such as in the provisions of the “Wet Feet – Dry Feet” policy, which will do little more than give the guards at the Mexican border a break.

What’s also predictable is an increase in the number of a new type of Cuban immigrant. These will be immigrants who are more “normal,” like the Dominicans and Salvadorans who maintain one foot in their country and one in the US, and thus shaping vigorously transnational communities.

In the medium term, the law will have to be repealed. This should be an ingredient of normalization, which apparently Obama wants in his second term and that hopefully could be take advantage of by the Cuban government.

And for now we have the immediate of delight of seeing the Havana-Miami political zoo turned around.

Just as Cuban officials turned maggots into butterflies yesterday, today they are converting the “murderous law” into an opportunity for a better life.

Meanwhile others are reacting as they realize that their anti-Castro crusade is sinking in the dark. They’ re seeing how they themselves will end up condemned — as Sor Juana put it — for the sins they financed.

But what’s much more important to me would be seeing thousands of Cubans continuing to benefit from the blunders of their politicians.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published by

5 thoughts on “From ‘Murderous Law’ to New Opportunity

  • I realize Rubio’s point of view is very different from the Cuban government on this issue. But it seems he recognizes how the new immigrations laws do put pressure on the Cuban Adjustment Act. It also seems this was at least part of the intention in changing the Cuban immigration laws: to put some pressure on the US to change their laws.

    The Democrats may be in no hurry to help the older more conservative Cuban-Americans, but the Democrats are not going to be in White House forever. Senator Rubio is considered a front runner for the GOP in 2016. And for the next four years, he has a lot of influence on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So his point of view, like it or not, does matter.

    That said, the landscape of US-Cuba relations will be dramatically different by then as at least one and very possibly both Castros will be gone. And that changes everything…

  • Republican US Sen. Rubio’s comments and like comments made by Rep.Ros Lehtinen reflect a completely different agenda. These conservative Cuban-American legislators see an erosion of their power base in the Cuban community as new Cuban immigrants arrive who are less interested in regime change and more interested in economic empowerment regardless who is in charge of the zoo. They realize that Cuban-Americans becoming more democratic and less republican. They realize that the anti-Cstro gravy train which has generated hundreds of millions of dollars to their friends in the anti-Castro movement in south Florida is coming into the station soon. The raw politics of this is that Democrats are in no hurry to respond. Why help these conservatives? Besides, the Castros’ age, Chavez’ health and an economy circling the drain are the three best reasons to wait this out awhile.

  • Moses,

    While enthusiastically supportive of the reforms introduced by Raul, the Canadian economist Arch Ritter considers those same issues you mention:

    “Will the reforms slow down? Will Cuban citizens be assuaged with the reforms that have now been introduced? Will Cuban citizens continue to accept Fidel’s political system after having rejected much of his economic system?

    Probably not.

    Cubans must be asking themselves why they put up with so many of the economic stupidities of the Fidel regime for over 50 years. (Think of the nationalization of almost everything in the 1960s, the shutting down of almost all small enterprise, the 10 million tons, the “New Man,” the abolition of cost accounting – and accountants – in the 1960s, the shutting down of half the sugar sector in 2002.) They must also be asking themselves if the political system installed by Fidel is just as noxious and dysfunctional as the economic system.

    Cuban citizens will not be assuaged. The economic reform movement will continue under and after Raul. Heightening popular expectations for reform will spread increasingly into political areas.”

  • Haroldo, your argument essentially states that the Castros immigration reforms have somehow managed to ‘one-up’ current US policy. This reflects a tit-for-tat that is predicated on a false assumption. This is a competition between equals. The reality is that Cuba could begin shuttling would-be immigrants directly to US shores and it still would not make a difference to Americans in the short, medium or long run. Have you not been paying attention lately? While the Castros may meet their undoing for lack of a paltry $2-3 billion Venezuelan subsidy, Obama is wrestling with Congress over a $16 trillion deficit. Sec. of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland has already expressed US reaction to these changes in Cuba. Her remarks were in effect “so what?”. Here’s why: The US still controls the visas extended to Cubans who wish to legally emigrate to the US. Cubans who are permitted to immigrate are the most likely latino immigrants to find work, pay taxes and become contributing members of society. Even those Cubans who arrive illegally and remain under the Cuban Adjustment Act are still required to stay a year to prove themselves. The Obama administration correctly believes that Cubans who live in the US and visit Cuba or send money to Cuba to support family are lay ambassadors for democracy and freedom. Although the anticastristas will argue that the remittances received by Cuban families in Cuba also serve to economically sustain the Castro dictatorship, the historical fact is that as people become economically independent from their government, their appetite for political freedom from that government increases. Despite an increase in tax revenues and other benefits of an increasingly financially independent middle class in Cuba, the erosion of the Castros power over the people is unavoidable. Through increased access to the world outstide of Cuba comes new ideas. You are wrong to suppose that these reforms will force a US response or that they somehow disadvantage US desires to expand democracy in Cuba. In fact, just the opposite will occur.

  • US Senator Marco Rubio recognizes that the new Cuban immigration laws will have a political effect in the US:

    “If people come to this country seeking refuge and then begin traveling back to Cuba 10 to 12 times a year, it becomes difficult for us to return to Washington and justify the special status that Cubans have in comparison with the rest of the population. That endangers the Cuban Adjustment Act.”

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