Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Certain lucky immigrants get a pass from the demagogues

Donald Trump is only the most cartoonish politician vying for attention and votes by mouthing crude embellishments about immigrants.

But only certain immigrants. Trump was railing about undocumented Mexicans. The ploy — promising to stop all those Mexicans, with their nasty criminal inclinations, from flooding across the border — may have cost him business. But the polls among Republicans in the early decider states of New Hampshire and Iowa now put him at second in a crowded field of the party’s presidential candidates. Obviously, immigrant bashing still appeals to those perpetually seething white guy Republicans who’ll have so much to say about their party’s eventual candidate.

But, like I said, only certain undocumented immigrants will be catching hell during the primary season.

Republican presidential candidates seem less bothered by the thousands of Cuban immigrants who enter this country without the proper legal documents, many of them coming across that same Mexican border. The Houston Chronicle reported last week that of the nearly 24,000 Cubans who arrived at the southern U.S. ports of entry (including Miami) from October to June, 67 percent crossed the Mexican border at Laredo.

In February, my colleagues Alfonso Chardy and Nora Gámez Torres turned up similar numbers. They reported that in the previous five months, 17,459 of 20,384 Cubans entering the U.S. without permission had come out of Mexico. Only 814 had come ashore in South Florida. The old policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” has become a misnomer.

Their method of entering the U.S. is no more legal than that of undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans sneaking over the same frontier. Except that, the moment Cuban migrants step into Texas, they come under the magical auspices of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

But Trump confined his dark mutterings about criminal misbehavior to Mexican migrants. When NBCUniversal, Grupo Televisa, Ora TV, Univision and Macy’s cut business ties to the blustering billionaire, it was the son of a Cuban immigrant, Sen. Ted Cruz, who came to his defense, and without a hint of irony. “I think he’s brash. I think he speaks the truth.” (Days passed before the other Cuban-American presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, issued a belated criticism of Trump.)

Trump’s xenophobic declarations will lead other Republican candidates to discuss — or rave like lunatics about — the perceived permissiveness of U.S. immigration policy. They won’t be saying much about the people who enjoy the most permissive immigration policies afforded any nationality, thanks to a relic of the Cold War: the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.

Too bad. It would be interesting to hear candidates defend this law, supposedly contrived to provide refuge for victims of political oppression, though those victims now travel back to visit oppressive Cuba 400,000 times a year.

Apparently, the effects of oppression are hereditary. The children, and even grandchildren, of Cuban immigrants who’ve lived all their lives in a third nation, who’ve never visited Cuba, can also claim the privileged immigration status conferred on so-called political refugees from the Castro regime.

Political demagogues like to rail about Mexican “illegals” exploiting U.S. services. They don’t mention the special benefits conferred on Cuban arrivals, including eight months of cash assistance, food stamps, medical coverage, job-placement services and free English classes. In 2008, the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies estimated that the U.S. spent about $322 million a year on these special benefits for Cuban immigrants. Which come with a green card after just one year’s wait, and a fast track to citizenship

In sheer numbers, of course, the influx of Mexican migrant laborers far outnumbers Cubans. Both groups suffer some small percentage of outlaws. But as the Herald’s Jay Weaver and Juan Tamayo reported last year, the special treatment Cubans enjoy under the CAA actually facilitates criminal ventures. Weaver and Tamayo wrote about Cuban immigrants running Medicare scams who are able to stash their loot safely away in Cuban banks. When the FBI comes nosing around, the supposed exiles escape prosecution by heading home to Cuba, where, thanks to the country’s dysfunctional diplomatic relationship with the U.S., they’re safe from extradition. The Sun Sentinel published a series on the same phenomenon this past spring, reporting that Cuban criminals operating in South Florida were responsible for an estimated 41 percent of the nation’s Medicare fraud.

Of course, crime no more tells the story of Cuban immigration than it does with migrants coming up from Mexico to find work. Mexicans and Mexican immigration are getting rough treatment from the likes of Trump. Cubans and the crazy special treatment they enjoy under the CAA will go unremarked.

No Republican candidate wants to publicly criticize the outdated law that has done so much for their only reliable Hispanic constituency. But maybe one of these wanna-be presidents — Jeb, Marco, someone other than Donald Trump — might suggest that, instead of demonizing illegal immigrants, we could learn something from our very liberal treatment of Cuban refugees.

Wouldn’t it be great if the non-Trumps among the candidates took their cue from Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski? The archbishop talked about the CAA at an immigration symposium staged at Florida International University in March.

Wenski said the Cuban Adjustment Act “should serve as an example of how we should treat immigrants, because Cubans have been the most successful immigrant group in American history.” According to the Archdiocese of Miami website, Wenski said, “We should not ask that [Cuban immigrants] be abused like the rest; we should treat everyone as well as we treat Cubans, because if the Cuban Adjustment Act works for Cubans, it can work for everyone else.”