Sen. Marco Rubio: Time to End Automatic Refugee Status for Cubans

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reacts to U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement about revising policies on U.S.-Cuba relations on December 17, 2014 in Washington, DC.
T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

As the United States shifts its posture toward Cuba, and evidence of rampant welfare abuse by some Cubans is mounting, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) says the country can no longer justify its policy of automatically granting Cubans refugee status once they reach U.S. soil.

Cubans are unlike other foreign nationals because, under current policy, if they reach the U.S. Cubans are automatically allowed to remain, considered refugees, and eligible for welfare benefits.

“[W]e’re now seeing growing evidence that a number of people that are coming from Cuba, supposedly fleeing oppression, are returning to Cuba thirty, forty, fifty times a year. Some are living in Cuba for months at a time on our taxpayer money,” Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, said in an interview Thursday with Drew Steele, the host of Daybreak on Fox News.

“So I just think it’s wrong and what I would do is get rid of that presumption and say look, a Cuban, just like everybody else, if they can prove that they’re refugees, they will be treated as refugees. Otherwise, they won’t be automatically presumed to be a refugee for purposes of benefits,” he added.

In addition to the welfare abuse, Rubio also noted the government’s effort to normalize relations with the island nation — a move the Florida Republican has strongly opposed— and the disparity in treatment between Cubans and other foreign nationals claiming to be fleeing oppression.

“I’m arguing that at this point, given all the changes in U.S.-Cuba relations, that’s no longer justified,” he added. “In essence, I can’t justify any longer Cubans receiving automatic refugee benefits while someone from another country does not.”

The administration’s normalization effort has sparked an increase in migration from Cuba to the U.S. Rubio has sponsored legislation that would restrict eligibility for the refugee status and accompanying welfare assistance to just those Cubans who have been persecuted. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) has sponsored companion legislation to the “The Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2016” in the House.



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