More than a year after President Obama announced a concessions package to the rogue Raúl Castro regime in Havana, the usual cabal of left-wing voices have united against political asylum for Cuban refugees. Unlike in the past half-century, however, they have ensnared some conservatives, who now believe that the problem lies in Cuban refugees seeking freedom.
To call for the repeal the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act at a time in which being a dissenter in Castro’s Cuba is arguably more dangerous than it has been since the early 1960s is to give President Barack Obama a free pass for invigorating the communist regime with his new policies, laying that blame, instead, on those suffering the burden of the White House’s “diplomatic thaw” with Havana.
The Cuban Adjustment Act grants Cuban refugees legal status upon landing on American soil (hence the nickname “Wet Foot, Dry Foot”). It recognizes the plight of Cubans on the island who are regularly arrested and beaten for merely expressing themselves politically or religiously. (In the past two years, Sunday Catholic Mass has become the prime venue for political arrests.) In recent memory, Cubans have been arrested for crimes as grave as placing a microphone in a public square and writing the names “Fidel” and “Raúl” on the backs of pigs.
Despite the clear evidence of political oppression in Cuba – making all those fleeing the dictatorship valid refugees – The New York Times (NYT) has called the law “a Cold War relic that is hindering the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana,” citing Castro’s objections to the law as a valid reason to disagree with it. “American officials are at a loss to explain the special treatment for Cubans,” the NYT editorial board claims, “which stands in stark contrast to the harsh way the United States typically treats Central Americans, including minors, many of whom are fleeing for their lives.”
“For almost a half century, Cubans have been the most privileged immigrants in the United States,” the Times’ Ann Louise Bardach wrote last year, lamenting that Cuban refugees are too “white, educated and middle or upper class.”
The skin color of Cubans has become a major point of contention for the left, who have grown increasingly vocal in exiling (pun intended) Cubans from the community of Latin Americans. Among a number of recent examples, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson rejected the idea in 2013 that Cuban-Canadian Sen. Ted Cruz “be defined as Hispanic.” MSNBC host Chris Matthews has added Sen. Marco Rubio, whose parents are both Cuban, to that list of non-Latinos: “I’m not sure the right word is Hispanic for them because they are Cuban nationals or whatever, or come from Cuba.” Matthews offered to call the senators “Spanish-surnames,” instead.
MSNBC’s hosts have long struggled with defining Cubans. If not Hispanic, as Matthews surmised, they certainly cannot be called “real Americans,” alleged Ed Schultz in 2011, because their families “did not do the World War II thing.”
Why the hostility? Bardach unwittingly gives it away in her New York Times column: “The 2.1 million Cuban-Americans have been, until quite recently, a rock-solid Republican constituency.” Cubans are not only Republicans, but politically active ones. In 2012, 67 percent of eligible Cuban-American voters went to the polls, compared with just 48 percent of Hispanics at large.
The far left has done little to obscure its concern that the growth of the Cuban-American population does not bode well for their demographic prospects. “No one in the Eisenhower administration apparently considered the distorting effect that a rapid buildup of Cuban exiles in Florida would have on domestic politics,” a column at Counterpunch – a left-wing website that routinely boasts headlines such as “Palestine’s Intifada: the Process of Liberation is Irresistible” – laments.
The struggle to confuse both conservatives and apolitical Latinos regarding the status of Cubans and Cuban-Americans has recently met with some success. “I never once saw a Cuban who wore boots,” a Mexican salesman told The Washington Post in January, explaining why they are not Latino. Cubans and Mexicans, he added, “are like oil and water.” Outside of the United States, Cuban and Cuban-American travelers in Mexico have repeatedly denounced discriminatory policies against them, including invasive screening at airports, which travelers from other nations do not endure.
On the conservative side, some Republicans have confused granting refugee status to Cuban-Americans with the immigration mess that Mexican and Central American immigration have created in the United States. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, who proposed a bill in October to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, admits that pressure from his Mexican constituencies is behind his efforts: “He says many Hispanic residents in his district who aren’t from Cuba ‘feel like, Woah, woah, woah, why does someone need to go to the front of the line just because they’re Cuban?’”
“These are not refugees seeking freedom. They’re not escapees hopping a tropical Berlin Wall. They’re coming for jobs, family, and access to American welfare, just like other migrants,” writes Mark Krikorian at the National Review. “In addition to the surge in Central American migrants crossing the border, there has been a torrent of Cuban nationals entering our country at levels not seen in years,” Daniel Horowitz notes, calling Cuban refugees “economic opportunists.”
In blaming the Cuban refugees for their attempts to escape, conservatives are not only targeting the wrong problem, but allowing President Obama to evade blame for creating a refugee crisis that has crippled Central American immigration authorities in the past six months.
Since December 2014, when President Obama announced a new diplomatic approach with Cuba that Castro said would lead to a “more prosperous and sustainable socialism,” the number of Cubans entering the United States has increased 78 percent. A Coast Guard spokesman told Breitbart News in January that observers recorded a 20 percent increase in the number of refugees attempting the trip from Cuba to Florida in the 2015 fiscal year and a 23 percent increase between January 2015 and January 2016. Between December 2013 and December 2014, when President Obama gave his speech, the number of Cubans attempting the trip rose 117 percent.
The Coast Guard has asserted that the rise in the number of refugees is a product of Cubans believing President Obama will repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act:
Any perception of U.S. immigration policy change, including rumors, often leads to an increase in maritime migration flows. Despite the fact that immigration laws and policies remain unchanged, including the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet foot-dry foot” policy, many Cubans report the belief that they need to migrate to the United States before such immigration policies change.
The influx of refugees occurred just as political oppression in Cuba, in light of President Obama’s concessions, skyrocketed. Between January and March 2015, politically motivated arrests on the island increased 70 percent. All the political prisoners Cuba released as a “good will gesture” before President Obama’s announcement have been arrested once again. One has been force-fed to prevent him from dying of a hunger strike, a United Nations-defined human rights violation.
“The increase of repression has been clear,” MSNBC’s José Diaz-Balart said in September. “A lot of questions by Raul Castro, but what is going to cause a change in that government that’s been in power since January 1st of 1959?”
One clear wrong answer to that question has been President Obama’s new approach to the Castro regime. Denying desperate Cuban refugees the right to freedom is to approve of President Obama’s diplomatic efforts with Havana and all that they have wrought, a lamentable stance to take for American conservatives looking to undo the damage this Democratic presidency has done globally in the past eight years.