Congressman Rivera to Cuban Immigrants: You Can Check In Any Time You Like But You Can Never Leave

Readers may recall that last week, after Raul Castro offered Cubans hope of reforms to the island's overly restrictive emigration policy, I predicted that sanctions proponents would soon realize that the overly generous Cuban Adjustment Act no longer serves their political interests (Actually, it's the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act, but the 'refugee' part often gets left out).  I had no idea how close to the mark I already was.  Early this month, Congressman David Rivera introduced legislation, H.R.2771 that would make Cubans wait five years to get their permanent residency under that Act, thus keeping them from traveling to Cuba in the meantime.  In June, he introduced a similar bill, H.R.1644, which would withhold government benefits to refugees who visit countries on the terrorism list (can anyone name any country on that list that anyone would willingly return to other than Cuba??).  In office for 8 months and these bills targeting Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba represent 50% of legislation Rivera has authored.

[A bit of quick background: the Cuban Adjustment Act gives the U.S. attorney general the authority to adjust the status of Cubans who arrive in the United States, legally or illegally, to permanent residency after spending one year in the United States.  The act was originally passed in 1966 to resolve the immigration limbo of the first wave of Cubans who fled just after Fidel Castro took power.  At the time, it was the United States policy to parole in all of those Cubans on a temporary basis until they could return home.  But, at odds with Fidel Castro's Revolution, which endured against expectations, those Cubans became exiles, unable or unwilling to return home, and it was for them that the Act was passed.]

The Miami Herald reports that Rivera plans to reintroduce that bill when Congress returns because, rather than withhold the refugee benefits on the front end, he instead intends to propose that the U.S. government revoke the CAA benefits of any Cuban emigre in the United States who returns to the island before five years have passed.  In other words, Rivera wants to keep the welcome mat out to Cubans on the basis that they are essentially refugees fleeing a dictatorship, but then slam the door shut if they deign to return to the island.

Not surprisingly, Rivera's idea is controversial, even in the most anti-Castro circles.

“The Cuban government has spent its life dividing the Cuban family, and now we have a person like Rivera, who for political reasons does the same and divides the people,” said Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Democracy Movement in Miami.

“What he is doing is punishing the Cubans and not the dictator,” added Sánchez.

Never one to turn away from an embargo-tightening opportunity, Claver-Carone offers this misleading spin on Rivera's idea:

“We agree to put Cubans on a level playing field with refugees from other countries like Iran,” he noted, adding that U.S. regulations bar refuge seekers from returning home, at least until they become American citizens. “That unfair advantage needs to be fixed.”

So, we should put Cuban refugees on a level playing field with refugees from other countries when it comes whether they return to the country from which they fled.  But no need to level the playing field when it comes to letting Cubans who arrive illegally to remain in the United States, and no need to fix the unfair advantage Cubans also get to adjust to permanent residency after one year in the United States, regardless of whether they had to actually prove they are refugees.  Afterall, no other nationality gets to show up on our nation's doorstep - nay, in our foyer - and be treated as a refugee.  Any other refugee has to prove they are in fact a refugee. 

Perhaps Claver-Carone would be quick to counter that the entire island is a prison and therefore every Cuban is of course a refugee.  Except, according to Ninoska Perez (who is as anti-Castro as they come):

“[The Cuban Adjustment] act is being used by people who have no hint of persecution.”

Wait, what?  There are hundreds of thousands of Cubans leaving Cuba, and returning, and they aren't being persecuted in Castro's gulag? 

So far, not even Rivera yet dares threaten the Cuban Adjustment Act and the benefits (which come with taxpayer-funded U.S. government benefits, by the way) afforded to Cuban Americans under it.  Ask Rivera and he'll say it should stay in place because the "political situation [in Cuba] remains the same today," as it did when the Act was passed.  But of course it hasn't remained the same; Cuban Americans aren't exiles the way they used to be.  And it is precisely those changed political circumstances that led Rivera to introduce his bill.

Here's a question someone should and surely will put to the Congressman and his supporters of this ridiculous idea: if you're so worried about Cubans who emigrate from Cuba to the U.S. under the Cuban Adjustment Act returning 366 days later, "abusing" a law intended for refugees who couldn't return home, and these emigrants clearly don't fit the bill because they go home all the time (Thanks a lot, Obama!), why don't you simply propose repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act?

Why not?  Because that would mean admitting that Cubans are no longer FLEEING Cuba.  And if America admits that the Cuban people are no longer fleeing the island as political refugees but are now mainly economic migrants - like, I don't know, Mexican migrants - then the foundation for this anachronistic and wasteful policy would surely crumble.