Legal Travel To Cuba
February 16, 2013
For Cubans who want to immigrate to the United States, the hardest part is getting here.
Since 1966, they’ve essentially been granted automatic refugee status upon arrival. The Cuban Adjustment Act was enacted then to address the legal status of 300,000 Cubans who’d fled Fidel Castro’s socialist revolution.
Almost half a century later, the Cubans who come to America rarely claim to be victims of political persecution. They want a better economic future, or to join family members already here, or both — just like most of the people who want to immigrate from anywhere else.
Unlike most immigrants, though, Cubans don’t have to wait years for a visa, or sneak across the border illegally. Once they’re here, they’re fast-tracked to legal residency, with a clear path to citizenship.
It’s a sore subject as Congress considers what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants to whom the system has not been so generous.
Those immigrants — more than half of them from Mexico — live and work under the government’s radar, often for low wages, constantly in fear of being deported.
To come here legally, most Mexican laborers would have to wait decades for a visa. But Cubans who present themselves at our southern border — a common point of entry, thanks to the U.S. “wet foot, dry foot” policy — are allowed in once they show an ID.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify it to my colleagues,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who is the son of Cuban immigrants. Rubio is one of eight senators working on a bipartisan immigration reform bill. “I’m not sure we’re going to be able to avoid, as part of any comprehensive approach to immigration, a conversation about the Cuban Adjustment Act,” he said.
The special considerations are especially hard to defend now that Cubans can travel freely between the U.S. and their homeland, thanks to loosened restrictions at both ends.
In 2009, President Barack Obama lifted most of the limits that kept Cuban-Americans from traveling to the island to visit family. Last year, more than 400,000 of them did so, some dozens of times.
In January, the Cuban government began allowing citizens to leave without an exit permit. Passports are now granted more liberally, and those who leave can stay away up to two years without losing their residency. Most Cubans are able to come and go at will.
Together, the changes are likely to invite a new influx of Cubans to the U.S., where they are eligible for legal residency, while encouraging them to return frequently to visit family — and spend money — in Cuba.
We have no problem with allowing Cuban-Americans to travel back and forth to Cuba. Congress ought to kill the travel ban entirely, so that all Americans can visit the island. Tourists from other countries have been flocking to “terrorist” Cuba for years.
Mixing it up with the outside world is an important exercise for Cubans as they ponder a future without the aging Castro brothers.
But it’s hard to argue that Cubans who can come and go as they please are in need of special considerations normally reserved for victims of political repression. One does not flee communism only to return repeatedly with a suitcase full of money and merchandise for the family.
Nor does it make sense to allow entry to the U.S. based not on a claim of persecution, but on whether the person dodged the Coast Guard boats long enough to tag American soil.
To be fair, those immigrants aren’t lying about their circumstances. They’re not required to demonstrate that they’re political refugees. They come because they can. But it isn’t fair. Cubans who want to come here for economic reasons should play by the same rules as economic immigrants from other countries.
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