Saturday, April 7, 2012

Repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act

Time to revisit the Cuban Adjustment Act 

Congress passed the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act in 1966 as a pragmatic solution to a very real problem. As its name makes clear, the CRAA was intended to “adjust” the status of nearly 300,000 Cubans already in the United States who had been admitted with a temporary “refugee” visa.

That visa did not put them on a path to citizenship, and so the act was passed to take them out of that limbo by granting them permanent residency. Neither the granting of the original refugee visa nor the awarding of permanent immigrant status under the CRAA required establishing a need for political asylum on the part of the applicant. Those measures were applied in a blanket fashion to any Cuban entering or already residing in the U.S.

In fact, one could argue that the CRAA is the antithesis of an asylum-granting process. The only Cubans who need to make a case for asylum, on an individual basis, are those not covered under CRAA, that is, those who are outside the United States., such as those intercepted at sea by the Coast Guard (“wet-foots”) or those applying for asylum at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. But if you’re here, you’re in, thanks to CRAA, with no need to establish asylum credentials.

One of the tenets of exile lore is that the recent arrivals from the island came for less loftier reasons than the grandparents and parents of his generation half a century ago. That was mentioned in a recent Other Views piece by Joe Cardona. The former came for political reasons, “uprooted” by the Revolution, whereas the latter are somewhat akin to mercenaries, migrating for “economic” reasons.

That might be true, but that is an empirical question, subject to being verified by research, assuming one can neatly disentangle and dichotomize the complex reasons why anyone migrates. What is true, however — and my point here — is that those who arrived from Cuba just yesterday will have their status normalized through the same process by which the grandparents and parents of Cardona’s generation normalized their status, without establishing the need for asylum. As far as the CRAA is concerned, one group is as “political” (or not) as the other.

A current proposal by Rep. David Rivera to tinker with the CRAA so as to coerce those who have recently arrived from Cuba into behaving like political refugees by threatening to revoke their residency in the United States should they return to the island to visit their families. Presumably, political refugees, fleeing persecution, cannot return to their country of origin.

But since these “refugees” were never required to declare themselves to be in need of asylum to stay in the United States and since they are obviously willing and able to return to Cuba, this move by Rivera has an entirely fictional basis. But the consequence of his efforts will be real: Put a chill on family travel to Cuba as part of the war he has long waged against the reunification of the Cuban family.

If Rivera believes that migrants from Cuba are no longer conforming to what is expected of political refugees, then he should have the political fortitude to advocate for the elimination of the special migratory status of Cubans, that is, repeal the CRAA instead of tinkering with it. Not that Cuban immigrants have always conformed to the behavior Rivera expects of political refugees.

Conveniently overlooked is any mention of the more than 125,000 U.S. Cubans who returned to Cuba to visit at the very first opportunity for them to do so, in 1979, even before the Mariel boatlift, at a time when most of those returning must have been the grandparents and parents of Cardona’s generation. The ones who, we are told, were the true political refugees.

Lisandro Pérez, formerly the director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, is now professor and chair of the Department of Latin American and Latina/o Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.

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  1. Excellent article. The majority of Americans have no idea about this and the entitlements they also receive When they get here. All the other non-Cuban know this and they are furious. I thought Pres. Obama would have the spine to repeal it but he won't either.

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