Keep the Cuban Adjustment Act, but clamp down on its abusers

The flip-flops of a Cuban migrant stuck in Costa Rica at the Nicaraguan border bear the design of the American flag.
The flip-flops of a Cuban migrant stuck in Costa Rica at the Nicaraguan border bear the design of the American flag. AP

In 1965, one year before signing the Cuban Adjustment Act into law, President Lyndon Johnson said, “I declare this afternoon to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here in America will find it. The dedication of America to our traditions as an asylum for the oppressed is going to be upheld.”

Clearly, the spirit of the Act was to assist Cubans who had to flee their homeland and could not return for fear of persecution.

However, unlike other immigrants seeking political asylum, Cubans can return home without jeopardizing their status. In no other instance are refugees or asylees allowed to return to the country they claim is persecuting them without fundamental political change in that country occurring first, or before becoming U.S. citizens.

This is an obvious inconsistency in the law, as several South Florida newspapers have repeatedly pointed out. Ignoring this flaw is detrimental to efforts to reform and preserve the law for those who truly fear for their safety and security in Cuba. Moreover, those who wrongfully take advantage of this law are abusing our country’s generosity and creating gross inequities in our immigration system. Economic immigrants from many other countries in our hemisphere who waited in line to come to the United States do not understand why Cubans, who openly admit they have come for economic opportunities, enjoy these privileges.

Reportedly, some Cubans qualify for public-assistance benefits in the United States and then move back to Cuba. Many of them receive more in benefits than retired Americans who have worked in this country for decades.

On Oct. 8, I met with senior White House staff involved in immigration and Cuba policy. I requested that meeting in a good-faith effort for cooperation to try to address abuses of the CAA and avoid a possible migrant crisis. The goal was to find common ground for a legislative solution.

While acknowledging the abuses, the officials echoed Secretary of State John Kerry’s words that the Obama administration, “has no plans whatsoever to alter the current migration policy.”

The president’s refusal to do anything to address abuses of the CAA is unfortunate. His inaction is inviting the Castro regime to instigate another migrant crisis, when he instead should be working with Congress to fix the law’s deficiencies. That crisis may be quickly approaching.

According to reports, many Cubans have been fleeing the island via government-owned and operated planes en route to Ecuador or Guyana, where visas are not required of them. From there, they make the long trek through Central America and Mexico in an attempt to enter the United States through our southern border. In too many cases, they put themselves at the mercy of despicable human-trafficking rings.

Additionally, the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua has likely conspired with the Castro regime to close and militarize its southern border, creating a refugee crisis in Costa Rica.

Just like Mariel in 1980 and the 1994 Cuban-migrant crisis, the regime appears to be manufacturing a new crisis in order to extract even more concessions from the Obama administration.

Since President Obama’s Dec. 17 “engagement” announcement last year, the Castro regime has been engaged in an unapologetic crackdown on its people. Almost 7,000 political arrests have been made against dissidents and pro-democracy activists. During the same period, there has been a 78-percent spike in Cubans arriving in the United States. Costa Rican authorities have reported that the number of Cubans entering their country illegally has grown to 15,391 so far this year from 5,400 in 2014.

It is clear that many Cubans are responding to the idea of a normal relationship between their oppressors and the United States with fear and desperation, leading many to risk their safety and their lives to escape the prison that is Castro’s Cuba.

I am concerned about what this may mean for South Florida. The spirit of the CAA continues to be relevant and is needed to provide refuge for Cubans fleeing the Castro regime. I will continue to work on curbing its abuses while ensuring this important pathway to freedom remains available so that, “Those who seek refuge here in America will find it.”

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo represents Florida’s 26th congressional district.