The drama of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica after the government of Nicaragua closed the border in November has come to an end.
A deal was reached during the holidays, and now the thousands are continuing their journey to the United States — and, most obviously, South Florida.
Of the 8,000 stranded migrants, about 200 reached the United States last week. The lure remains the generosity of the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act, a measure enacted in 1966 granting permanent residence to immigrants from the island a year and a day after reaching American soil.
Now the hard part begins for Miami-Dade leaders — from the county mayor to the school superintendent to the homeless agencies — all bracing for an influx of new needy residents, with or without relatives here, students and residents with no place to live. Already, a local agency is preparing a shelter for the new arrivals in the Redland.
Among those bracing for an onslaught of Cuban students is Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, along with concerned School Board members. Last week, the board requested more federal funding to educate the new arrivals. In just six months, almost 4,000 Cuban children have enrolled in the district. Mr. Carvalho said the cost to educate incoming students could be “upwards of $40 million.”
“This should not force a financial crunch on our school system,” he told the Herald. “This can be avoided if our federal government takes action.”
He’s absolutely right. This and other localities are most often willing to step up to immigration challenges not of their own making. Immigration policy is federal policy. States and municipalities accommodate newcomers, dealing with the consequences.
Such funding will help provide financial relief in the short term as the community absorbs students into public schools. However, other elected officials are taking a longer view. Following a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation last year, some of the Cuban Adjustment Act’s benefits have come under scrutiny, and congressional members, including Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, have questioned the necessity of bestowing such largesse upon new arrivals who, unlike past waves of Cuban migrants, are economic, not political refugees. The act was created for the latter. But the United States’ new relationship with Cuba has changed the dynamic.
For decades, Cubans were not allowed to travel outside the country without government permission; today, most can leave and return. Until a few years ago, those who left had to leave all of their belongings, give up their homes, cars and anything else of value to the government. That’s not the case now.
Mr. Curbelo, himself a Cuban American, last month filed a bill to amend federal law that treats all Cuban arrivals as refugees or political asylum seekers — entitled to food stamps, Medicaid and other assistance, a burden that falls on the county and the state.
Under Mr. Curbelo’s proposal, Cubans would be treated like immigrants from most other countries, who are required to file a refugee or asylum claim — and wait years for it to be approved — before qualifying for special benefits.
Indeed, it is time to engage this issue to bring long-term clarity to current policy. In the short term, however, Miami-Dade is about to see an abundance of migrants from Cuba. The U.S. government must ensure that Miami-Dade residents aren’t footing the bill alone.