Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Rubio would cut off Cuban benefits but not the mass migration

In this Sept. 25, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks in Washington.
In this Sept. 25, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks in Washington. AP

This new gun-wielding, ISIS-fighting, immigrant-bashing tough guy edition of Marco Rubio intends (at least while the presidential primaries are raging) to hire 20,000 border guards and erect a 700-mile fence along the Mexican frontier.

Our chameleon senator, a onetime moderate, warned all unauthorized immigrants that a President Rubio would keep them out. “If we do not know who you are, and we do not know why you are coming, for 100-percent certainty when I am president, you are not getting into the United States of America,” he told an Iowa political rally Saturday night, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Well, not quite all unvetted immigrants will be barred. Rubio forgot to add a Cuban disclaimer.

He has said nothing about discontinuing the wet-foot/dry-foot entry policy or tossing the Cuban Adjustment Act. Of course, it would be difficult to explain to someone unfamiliar with the peculiar ethnic politics of South Florida why we retain those Cold War anachronisms.

So he neglected to mention to his Iowa audience that he still supported the legal exception that allowed 43,159 Cubans visa-free access to U.S. ports of entry in 2015. According to the Pew Research Center, that was a 78 percent increase over 2014. Pew reported that two-thirds (28,371) of last year’s Cuban immigrants entered via the same Mexican border traversed by the other kind of Latin immigrants Rubio and fellow Cuban-American Ted Cruz and Donald Trump find so frightening.

Rubio attempted to inoculate himself last week against criticism that his harsh border policies exempt immigrants associated with his power base back in South Florida. The senator filed legislation that would end special monetary benefits now granted Cuban arrivals — unless they can prove they were actually fleeing political persecution. (Miami U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo filed a companion bill in the House.)

According to a Sun-Sentinuel investigation, the U.S. spends about $680 million a year providing special assistance to Cuban immigrants, who are automatically put on the fast track for green cards, Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid benefits.

The Rubio-Curbelo bill only addresses the money, not the visa-free entry granted only to Cubans. But if most of the new Cuban arrivals are actually economic immigrants and not political refugees, as their legislation implies, what’s the point in maintaining their special entry status?

The Rubio bill would do nothing to stem the mass influx. But by cutting off most refugee assistance dollars for these migrants, his legislation threatens to exacerbate the huge financial burden borne by government and charitable services in South Florida, destination No. 1 for new Cubans. Just last week, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Miami-Dade schools had added 4,000 Cuban students in the past six months. He warned that the school district will need at least another $40 million to accommodate new students.

At least recent arrivals have been able to help look after themselves with their federal stipends. If Rubio manages to eliminate those benefits but does nothing about the mass immigration allowed by wet-foot/dry-foot, he’ll be sucking hundreds of millions out of South Florida’s economy.