Politics

Eliminating automatic refugee benefits for Cubans would save U.S. money, report says

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, pictured here endorsing Marco Rubio for president, has filed a bill in Congress to curtail automatic welfare benefits to Cuban immigrants.
U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, pictured here endorsing Marco Rubio for president, has filed a bill in Congress to curtail automatic welfare benefits to Cuban immigrants. EL NUEVO HERALD

It seems obvious, but now a nonpartisan report confirms it: Ending automatic welfare payments to Cuban immigrants would save the federal government money.

That’s according to the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed proposed legislation by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Sen. Marco Rubio, two Cuban-American Republicans from South Florida.

The CBO estimated the feds would save $2.45 billion over 10 years if recently arrived Cubans were no longer treated automatically as refugees deserving of food stamps and other aid. About $1.05 billion would be saved from 2017-21, and another $1.4 billion from 2022-27.

The savings give Curbelo and Rubio a new selling point for their bill, which they filed to curtail abuse by some Cuban immigrants who send the money back to the island. GOP leaders in Congress — particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — have said they’re not interested in taking up immigration legislation. With the CBO report in hand, Rubio and Curbelo might have better luck pitching their proposal as a way to save money.

“For too long, America’s generosity has been abused, and this projection from the Congressional Budget Office underscores the importance of getting the Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act passed as soon as possible,” Curbelo said in a statement in which he also praised Rubio and more than 50 House co-sponsors of the legislation. “Together we will make sure our country continues being a place of refuge and safety for the victims of [Raúl] Castro’s persecution while doing right by American taxpayers.”

Rubio recently tried to tack the benefits cut onto other Senate legislation, an unsuccessful effort that nevertheless drew wider attention to the proposal. He has since said the bill would most likely move first out of the House.

“The American people are a generous people, but those who are abusing Cuban refugee benefits are taking American taxpayers for fools, and we need to stop this abuse,” Rubio said in a statement Wednesday. He also mentioned the CBO report on the Senate floor.

Curbelo’s and Rubio’s proposal would amend an existing law that gives Cuban immigrants, regardless of how they arrived in the United States, automatic refugee status and the benefits that come with that. Most other foreign nationals must be granted refugee status after an arduous application process to qualify.

The legislation has the backing of the other Cuban Americans in Congress. But it could still become a campaign issue for Curbelo in November. His likely Democratic rival, former Rep. Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American Democrat, has criticized the bill as an attempt by established Cuban Americans to hurt newer Cuban arrivals.

  Comments