Newspaper article International New York Times

Why Are Cubans So Special?

Newspaper article International New York Times

Why Are Cubans So Special?

Article excerpt

For a fair immigration policy, end laws favoring one group over the others.

Every Cuban knows the "wet foot, dry foot" drill: Risk fleeing to the United States and get caught at sea, and you will be sent back to the island; but if you wangle just one toe onto dry land, you're home free. From there, typically, it's a fast track to permanent residency, and eligibility for all manner of benefits, from green cards to welfare, then citizenship -- all compliments of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. Indeed, for almost a half century, Cubans have been the most privileged immigrants in the United States.

The repeal of this Cold War relic of immigration policy is long overdue. Last week, on the same day that the highest-level American diplomat in almost 40 years arrived in Cuba, the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously voted to petition Congress to revise the act. Should the commission get its wish, the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, devised in 1995, would likely also be upended.

Most Americans are under the impression that the Republican Party is unequivocally opposed to amnesty for immigrants. In fact, it has long backed a blanket amnesty -- but only for Cubans. For every other hopeful immigrant, the party's message has been clear: "Deportations, deportations, deportations," to quote Jorge Ramos, the Walter Cronkite of Spanish-language television. Why?

One answer is that the 2.1 million Cuban-Americans have been, until quite recently, a rock-solid Republican constituency. There is also a race and class issue. Unlike most of Central and Latin America, Cuba does not have a distinct indigenous population (the Spanish slaughtered almost all of the native Indians of the island). Hence those fleeing the Castro regime in the 1960s and '70s were almost entirely white, educated and middle or upper class.

In 2014, the number of Central and Latin American migrants sharply declined. But for Cubans, it was a record year. About 30,000 took to the Florida Straits or arrived via Mexico (the preferred route for those who can afford the flight). Unlike the Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Haitians -- most of whom received the heave-ho -- each Cuban was welcome.

Word, and worry, has spread that the two pieces of legislation that make up the Cuban Privilege might not be around much longer. Since Dec. 17, when President Obama re-established relations with Cuba, the waters between the two countries have been swarming with migrants.

Last month, 481 Cubans were intercepted or rescued from jury- rigged rafts and boats -- a 117 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Coast Guard. Many are not so lucky. Some migrants try five or 10 times before they successfully cross the 90 miles of water. How many have not made it? Thousands for sure over the last 50 years -- making the Florida Straits one of the world's largest aquatic graveyards. …

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