In my opinion

Daniel Shoer Roth: U.S. gift to Cuban exiles abused

 

dshoer@MiamiHerald.com

A walk on the beach to count my blessings led me to understand with greater clarity the polarized debate on the Cuban Adjustment Act.

In this city of Botox, implants, and steroids, where people seem to avoid eye contact with a stranger, the walk got me into an authentic, profound dialogue with a newly arrived Cuban who needed barely an hour to share plenty of anecdotes that illustrate a new chapter in the Cuban exile community.

The hardships on the island had led him to spend $12,000 to escape clandestinely through Mexico, cross the U.S. border guided by “coyotes,” and stay here by invoking the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

He then took shelter under the federal law that allows him to adjust his migration status to permanent resident after one year and one day. The government provides him with food stamps and other federal benefits. He is looking for work to begin to save money to travel to Cuba once he obtains his residency. He longs for his beloved wife and baby. He feels he cannot live without them.

His testimony caused me pain. I tried to offer words of encouragement. When we parted I found one more reason to thank my own blessings.

Stories like his surface everywhere in South Florida. There are Cubans who go back on vacation. Others take advantage of the trips to travel as “mules,” carrying an inventory of electronic gadgets and other gifts that in Cuba are basic necessities.

Any solidarity gesture is laudable. It is a noble thing that immigrants living in prosperous countries help the loved ones they left behind. Poverty pushes them to seek a full life — and share it.

Yet it is also undeniable that there are people abusing the U.S. government’s generosity. The Medicare scammers return to Cuba with impunity. And now, Havana’s new immigration policy that eases travel restrictions (though a visa is still required to enter the United States) and extends up to two years the time Cuban citizens can live abroad without losing their residence, makes it easier for Cubans to obtain permanent residency in the United States and then return to Cuba quickly enough to retain their Cuban residence.

This way they can travel from one country to the other of their own will, injecting funds to the impoverished Cuban economy.

Last week, at a question-and-answer session with the American Society of News Editors, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, reemphasized the need to examine and amend the Cuban Adjustment Act to stop those abuses and irregularities, a position supported by a segment of exiles in Miami with conservative values.

“I don’t criticize anyone who wants to go visit their mom or dad or their dying brother or sister in Cuba,” he said. “But I am telling you it gets very difficult to justify someone’s status as an exile and refugee when a year and a half after they get here they are flying back to that country over and over again.”

His speech, in tune with the ideology of Cuban-American U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, has prompted explosive criticism among some Cuban exiles who denounce the proposal as insensitive and lacking empathy with those who have family or friends in Cuba.

“We would be stabbing ourselves,” said Héctor Caraballo, president of the Cuban American Committee of the Democratic Party in Miami-Dade County. “It would be a serious mistake to try to change or adjust the Cuban Adjustment Act because, in the long term, it would lead to its elimination.”

Caraballo says that the Cuban residents in the United States who return to Cuba to visit family or friends help bring about an internal transformation, strengthening Cuba’s civil society and leading to a greater opening. Community leaders who share his liberal ideology defend Cubans who travel to the island arguing that they entered the United States through a family-reunification visa — not as political refugees.

The root of the problem is that the Cuban Adjustment Act was written in 1966 to address the political conditions in Cuba at that moment. Yet the majority of Cubans who seek shelter under the act today emigrated for economic reasons, as do non-Cuban immigrants who do not receive any of those benefits. All of that fosters inequality and criticism from U.S. immigration-rights advocates.

There is no doubt that Cubans continue being victims of the most corrupt and ruthless dictatorship in the hemisphere. But such human tragedy does not justify abusing the magnanimous immigration system of this country, a beacon of light that brightens a tempestuous sea, allowing us immigrants to anchor in the open arms of its piers.

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

  • CUBA

    Condom shortage hits Cuba

    Condoms are now going for $1.30 — when Cubans can find them.

  •  
FILE--Frank Calzon, a Cuban-American who smuggles items like bibles and televisions into Cuba, displays merchandise in his Washington Freedom House office in this June 12, 1996 file photo.

    CUBA

    Cat-and-mouse secrecy game plays out daily in Cuba

    In Cuba, dissidents and supporters abroad who send them assistance are forever searching for ways to avoid the attention of the communist government’s security agents.

  •  
Alan Gross

    CUBA

    Gross ends hunger strike in Cuba

    U.S. government subcontractor Alan P. Gross, jailed in Havana for more than four years, suspended his because his mother asked him to stop, according to a family statement.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category