Rivera's Revenge on Cuban Immigrants Who Refuse to Be Exiles
You've got to hand it to U.S. Rep. David Rivera; he's nothing if not determined. Tomorrow, the House Judiciary's Subcommittee on Immigration will consider (and likely approve) a bill, H.R.2831, introduced by Rivera that would withhold or rescind permanent residency status given under the 1966 Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act (commonly referred to as CAA) to any Cuban immigrant who dares to travel to Cuba for any reason before he or she becomes a U.S. citizen. And since it can take years to officially become a citizien, Rivera is essentially prepared to keep families now accustomed to being together, apart.
Why is a Cuban American legislator is proposing to limit the rights of his fellow Cuban-Americans (or, technically, soon-to-be Cuban Americans)?
Rivera hopes to end what he calls "abuses" of the 1966 law he says was put in place to "protect" Cubans fleeing their home. The 1966 law was actually not what protected Cubans who fled; the Attorney General has (and has had for decades), the authority to parole into the United States anyone who doesn't already come with a legal visa when it serves the national interest. It was under that authority that the first wave of Cubans, who were fleeing Fidel Castro's increasingly Communist Revolution, were admitted to the United States. But paroling someone into the country leaves them in legal limbo. In the case of the Cuban Revolution, thousands of Cubans who left early on and expected to be home in time for Christmas were disappointed year after year. So the CAA was passed to finally resolve the legal status of a group of parolees who, it became clear, would need to set down more permanent roots in the United States.
But the law was written in such a way that it left open the door to any Cuban who might arrive in the United States to gain permanent residency after one year in the U.S. No other nationality gets this sort of access to the United States. The CAA is truly the Cadillac of immigration statutes: it is preferential and righteous. Even if Rivera doesn't like the kind of Cubans who now avail themselves of a law that hasn't expired decades later, he can't bring himself to advocate repeal. Cubans still need its protection, he insists. Cuba hasn't changed (the Castros are still there, after all), and so that means that Cubans who come to American even today are refugees. Rivera needs his colleagues, the media and fellow Americans (to the extent they even notice) to buy into the narrative that all Cubans are exiles. Because if all Cubans are exiles, it would be wrong for the rest of us to reach out to the island ourselves.
It's a powerful narrative that has captivated many members of Congress who either have a long-held reflex reaction to the words "Fidel Castro" and "communism" or who couldn't give a whit about Cuba but are happy horse trade votes for their pet projects. I'd be willing to bet that no one shows up to Mr. Rivera's mark up (except for the Chairman who has to preside), except that one can't underestimate the calling in of favors and the organizational prowess of hard-liners wielding talking points about the wretched Cuban people who still today flee and are exiled from their homeland.
Except for the minor detail that the people who would be affected by H.R. 2831 are being penalized specifically because they aren't exiles. They are being penalized for not being persecuted in Cuba.
It's hard to understand what Rivera has to gain by pressing the matter now - perhaps he just wants to get his colleagues on record while they're willing to do him the favor - since the bill doesn't stand a chance in the Senate. The fact that Rivera can push this bill at all without a crippling blowback is a reminder of how much less engaged and mobilized the newer cohort of Cuban Americans who travel back and forth and are still bringing relatives from the island must be.
Yet, it's easy to see how Rivera's bill could give the Obama administration more reason to whip up those Cuban Americans they see in the margins and up for grabs this November. It's not very many, a few percentage points maybe, but as we learned in Florida twelve years ago, a few votes can go a long, long way.