A comment in response to my blog about “Why Did They Come Now?” asked, What about Cuba” The answer is: Yes, the Cubans as a group get asylum after getting into the country illegally. And, that is an incentive for them to come illegally seeking greater opportunity, just like illegal aliens from other countries.
So, why a different policy for Cubans than for others? There may have been a reasonable humanitarian view that all arriving Cubans were political refugees back in 1966 when the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) was enacted in the aftermath of the Cuban revolution. But, even then, it was a mistake. Any law that exempts any large class of persons from the standard screening process under the immigration law that applies to all others opens a door to fraud and abuse by eliminating a careful case-by-case screening.
Of course there was persecution of persons who opposed the revolutionary Castro government, but that did not mean that all persons fleeing the country were persecuted. And, as U.S.-born children of Cubans and sometimes their parents now travel to Cuba as tourists, the hypocrisy of treating all Cuban newcomers as refugees is clear.
Why then are all arriving Cubans still given asylum a year after arrival? It’s politics. So many of Cuba’s wealthy elite fled to Miami during and immediately after the revolution that they formed a potent political force that especially resonated with national leaders who saw Cuba as a foot in the door of the Western Hemisphere by a Soviet client state (Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon) that today’s political leaders remain reluctant to change the status quo.
What about the “Wet-Foot-Dry-Foot” policy that dictates that those intercepted by the Coast Guard at sea are screened at sea and sent back to Cuba if they do not likely qualify as refugees? This policy is based on a 1995 Executive Order of President Clinton adopted to slow a growing surge of Cuban “rafters.” It succeeded in slowing the flow of rafters and has resulted in a smaller flow of illegal Cuban migrants coming by land (through Mexico for example) or directly from Cuba by smuggling operations. Clinton also accepted blackmailing by Cuba when he agreed to an annual minimum level of 20,000 immigrant admissions from Cuba in exchange for Castro’s pledge to crack down on departing rafters. To fill that minimum requirement, Clinton agreed to set up a separate lottery visa system for Cubans – another abuse of authority.
Even if the CAA were not repealed – as it should be – it could be rendered moot if the current administration simply started deporting arriving Cuban illegal aliens before the one-year anniversary of their arrival. It would simply have to begin screening them for a well-founded fear of persecution the same as it is doing for those intercepted at sea.
President Clinton’s actions in 1995 were an abuse of power – altering immigration law for a large class of people by executive action. But it is worth recognizing that the abuse could be undone simply by a similar corrective executive action.