Fabiola Santiago

Knocking down Cubans doesn’t help the cause of other immigrants

Archive photo of stranded Cuban migrant Denis Gomez, 45, holding up his daughter Dalia Caridad, 4, during a meeting at a shelter in Panama City, Panama.
Archive photo of stranded Cuban migrant Denis Gomez, 45, holding up his daughter Dalia Caridad, 4, during a meeting at a shelter in Panama City, Panama. AP

A little empathy is in order for the Cubans suffering and stranded en route to the United States after President Barack Obama abruptly ended the 21-year-old wet foot/dry foot policy. It’s basic human decency.

Yet I see, hear, and read a gotcha attitude and an inordinate amount of glee in the reaction of other immigrants — and American liberals, too.

The discord has been ugly and divisive.

I don’t understand immigration advocate Marleine Bastien, founder of Haitian Women of Miami, claiming this anti-immigrant move as “a big day for us.” I thought being treated like the Cubans was the standard everyone was aspiring to and fighting for in decades of demonstrations, court battles and civic engagement.

Dragging another group down won’t lift anybody up. It only makes things worse.

“We just lowered the bar,” a Miami immigration lawyer tells me.

Wet foot/dry foot, adopted by the Clinton administration in 1995 to return Cubans interdicted at sea, allowed those who did reach U.S. soil automatic entry without review of their history back in Cuba. Sure, it was a stark contrast to how Haitians and Latin Americans are treated, but those groups also benefitted from the comparison when pressing their cases for humanitarian relief. Immigration lawyers have certainly used the Cuban standard to win relief for their Haitian and Central American clients, who in the middle of wars and disasters have received temporary protected status that in many cases led to permanent residency. I’ve used it in columns to wake up Cuban-Americans to the need to support immigrant children and their parents.

But what are Haitians and other immigrants likely get now that they didn’t have before? Does it feel better to get the same bad, but equal treatment?

Even if you think wet foot/dry foot needed to end, that shouldn’t preclude anyone from caring about the plight of newly divided families — or the suffering of the newly stranded.

There’s Elaine Miranda, 21, who left Cuba eight weeks pregnant on a flight to Trinidad and Tobago, not realizing that the long, treacherous trek through the Amazon region and Guyana would force her to give birth to a daughter while traversing the Panamanian jungle. Eight men carried Miranda during two days of painful contractions until she was airlifted by helicopter to a capital hospital.

“I drew strength from the hope that I was going to make it to the United States,” Miranda told a reporter for the Spanish newspaper El País. She’s in the town of Tapachula, in Chiapas, Mexico, where she and her husband, Marcos Delgado, 25, and their baby are temporarily housed in a ramshackle hotel along with some 50 stranded Cubans.

Obama’s timing couldn’t have been worse.

After ignoring the exodus from Cuba by land and sea for the past two years as he made normalizing relations with Cuba a priority, his 11th-hour ending has created a humanitarian crisis at points all along Latin America, at the U.S. border and in Miami. How can a couple, ages 67 and 64, visiting their daughter in Miami and arriving at the airport with a five-year tourist visa end up in detention? Didn’t the U.S. embassy in Havana grant that hard-to-get visa? Hadn’t they already established a record of visiting and returning home? Now they’re guilty until they prove themselves innocent. It’s only the beginning of the new policy, and it’s already hunting season for suspect Cubans by overzealous immigration agents.

I can buy the argument from people who’re happy at the Cubans’ misfortune that Cuban-Americans haven’t done enough to show empathy for other communities. That’s a generalization and a matter of perception, largely based on the abandonment of immigration reform by politicians like Miami’s Sen. Marco Rubio. But he’s not us.

President Obama, dubbed “Deporter-in-Chief” for the record-breaking deportations throughout his presidency, is leaving in peril the Cubans he set out to help with his “friendly” Cuba policy — only days away from the inauguration of a president-elect who won on an anti-immigrant platform.

Other immigrants are cheering the move against the Cubans, but this is bad news for them too.

  Comments