IMMIGRATION & CUBA POLICY

No one will fix it, if they don’t think it’s broken

 
 
OJITO
OJITO

mao35@columbia.edu

As the adage goes, politics is the art of the possible. And it’s beginning to look as if the only possible solution to the comprehensive immigration-reform impasse is to accept a noncomprehensive bill that will save the darlings of the pro-immigration movement — young “Dreamers” who were brought illegally to the country by their parents — while leaving everybody else in the shadows.

But even that option is shaky.

House Speaker John Boehner said recently that immigration reform is off the table for now. Congress is behaving like an angry parent of unruly children: You disobeyed the rules, you must pay.

Fine, but there are always consequences to that intransigence. In a perfect world, children grudgingly follow the rules (say, an 11 p.m. curfew). In a not-so-perfect world, they keep breaking them. A stoic parent holds fast and keeps the punishment up. The years of high school can drag on like that. No fun.

A more considerate and amenable parent may revisit the rule: Perhaps 11 p.m. is too early, after all. It’s called engaging in negotiations. And this country, this Congress seem to have lost the art of negotiating. We are stuck in place, recycling old slogans and themes and going for the solution that ruffles the least number of feathers.

After all, the absence of policy is, in fact, a policy — one that, collectively, we seem to be comfortable with.

More than 11 million undocumented people live and work in this country. They send their children to school and sit in church pews next to us. They mow our lawns, cook our food, deliver our Chinese take-out, take care of our babies and, the lucky ones, attend college with our kids.

Some may even hold such important jobs that you would never think they are in the country illegally. I’ve known reporters, lawyers, tutors, secretaries, graphic designers, musicians and actors who are undocumented. They speak English well enough — sometimes flawlessly — keep their heads down and do what they must to stay in the country they call home.

For the most part, they pay taxes and contribute millions of dollars every year to the Social Security coffers (without being able to ever benefit from their own contributions). But they can’t vote and they can’t agitate too much for fear of attracting attention.

So, what’s not to like? There is absolutely no incentive for the Republicans to help to legalize a large contingent of people who are already doing what they are supposed to do and can’t ever do the thing Republicans fear the most: vote them out of office.

And so stasis sets in.

Something similar happens with the U.S. embargo on Cuba, which is back in the news. The incentive just isn’t there, despite the findings of a recent poll conducted by the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The poll found that the majority of Americans, including Miami-Dade County residents, favor lifting the embargo. But we’ve heard similar numbers before, and nothing has happened, in part because the status quo is a much more comfortable position.

Cubans and non-Cubans already travel to the island daily from the United States, as do tourists from all over the world. (Even Bill de Blasio, the new mayor of New York City, honeymooned in Cuba, and not precisely in the 1950s as so many Americans used to do.)

Cubans from the United States routinely send money to relatives to open businesses on the island, while Cubans — including dissidents — from the island travel to the United States, then return to their lives there. Some of them become U.S. residents and lead truly bi-coastal lives, except the other coast is in another country, but still. Miami Dade College just admitted the first batch of Cuban students.

The U.S. government has been openly selling agricultural products to Cuba, and less than two years ago a ship with a Bolivian flag sailed directly from the United States to the port of Havana for the first time in more than 50 years. It was loaded with goods sent by exiles.

Artists come and go — even Pablo Milanés has performed in Miami. Everyone seems content — in Miami, in D.C. and in Havana. The Cuban government doesn’t have to change its “victim” narrative; exiles feel they are keeping the “pressure” on; and Washington, well, Washington, just looks the other way, because who cares about an impoverished island when there is so much money to be made with the Chinese?

As Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, told the Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer the other day, “Politics is a game of addition, not of subtraction.” There is nothing to add here. Republicans don’t want disgruntled new voters and no one wants a law that might just upset the delicate balance of 55 years of animosity, when the only weapon Cuban leaders profess to dislike is likely to be the only one keeping them in power.

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