Heads Up on the Cuban Adjustment Act

Fernando Ravsberg

Photo: Linda Williams

HAVANA TIMES, August 25 — The recent topic of debate between Havana and Miami is the “Cuban Adjustment Act.” Thanks to that legislation (1966), any citizen from the island who steps onto US soil receives residency, just as if they were a political refugee.

No other community of immigrants in that country has similar benefits, something that can only be understood within the framework of the bilateral political confrontation – Cold War residue that has now existed for more than half a century.

We know that sincerity and politics rarely join. The US argues that the objective of the law is to provide refuge to those escaping communism, while Cuba assures that this law is an instrument to promote illegal emigration.

Either of these arguments could have been true decades back, but I have the impression that time has transformed each of them into empty tirades. Neither side can now defend their position without there being the stench of political propaganda in the air.

Things have gotten to such a point that the Cuban government is the only nation in the world that protests because their citizens are provided legal protections in another country, though officially they’re recognized as economic emigrants.

If Havana was successful in its attempts to eliminate the Adjustment Act, illegal emigration would surely continue as it does among Mexicans, Dominicans and Central Americans, who don’t receive special benefits in the US.

What’s certain is that today the majority of Cubans emigrate in a manner that is “more legal and safer” than the rest. They travel there with emigrant visas, go on family visits or walk across one of bridges along the Mexican-American border.

The official position of the Cuban government turns out paradoxical, because those immigration privileges have meant a safety valve for it in times of greatest social tension, as well as a an important source of hard currency – vital during the economic crisis of the ‘90s.

It’s equally surprising to hear Cuban dissidents raise their voices in favor of the Adjustment Act, though they have repeated ad nauseam that the communists use emigration to relieve social and political tensions.

But it would be unfair to say the only contradictions appear on the Cuba side of the Florida Strait. David Rivera, a Cuban-American Republican congressional representative, is in the limelight because he has just proposed adjusting the Adjustment Act.

David Rivera (R-Florida)

The congressman recalled that the initial objective of the legislation “was to provide (legal) status to Cuban refugees because they could not return to Cuba,” but he verified that now a third of them spend their vacations on the island.

His great merit is in being the first Cuban-American politician to express with total frankness the contradiction that “they make use of a law conceived to protect them from persecution and then they turn around and travel to the persecuting country.”

But his mistake is in attempting to force reality. He doesn’t propose limiting refugee status to those Cubans who are truly persecuted, as is applied to other nationalities; rather, he wants to see the punishment of all those who are not willing to pretend to be political exiles.

In short, he’s trying to sanction those who travel to the island before having resided in the United States for five years.

Evidently his proposal doesn’t get at the root of the problem; at best it’s an attempt to dab a little makeup on the law so that it looks like what it was intended to be, despite it having little to do with reality.

An editorialist for the biggest newspaper in Miami noted the danger and sounded the alert that “David Rivera wants exiles to commit suicide,” alleging that the congressman had put himself “on Raul Castro’s side” – an accusation that’s almost a threat in Florida.

In any case, that didn’t frighten another Cuban-American journalist, Bernardette Pardo, who criticized the Adjustment Act because: “It establishes differences (…) and transforms Cubans into sacred cows, something that all other immigrants legitimately resent.”

Thanks to this debate, the spokesman of the Federation of Ex-Political Prisoners, Cuban-American Arturo de la Monte, “fell out of the tree”* when he discovered that, “If you’re a political refugee and you wait one year and a day [to receive permanent US residency] and then travel to Cuba, then you’re not someone persecuted.”

* To “fall out of the tree” (Spanish: Se cayo de la mata) is a Cuban expression meaning that someone “discovered” something that everyone already knew.

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.