Lawmakers Demand Changes as Cuban Migration to US Surges

Mark Browne | December 22, 2016 | 9:36pm EST
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U.S.-bound Cuban migrants arrive at Ciudad Hidalgo on the Guatemala-Mexico border in January 2016. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

Mexico City ( – President-elect Donald Trump and Congress are facing demands by lawmakers to end the special treatment given to Cuban migrants to the U.S., amid a surge of new arrivals on the border with Mexico following restoration of diplomatic relations with the island nation.

“Every aspect of U.S. policy toward Cuba needs to be reexamined in the new administration,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told through a spokesman this week.

Rubio specifically called for an end to federal benefits to Cubans who come to the U.S., apply for benefits and then collect them after returning to Cuba.

“If you’re coming from Cuba, receiving refugee benefits and returning to the island all the time, then you shouldn’t be eligible for refugee benefits from U.S. taxpayers,” he said. “We want to make sure refugee benefits are not creating a financial incentive to come to the U.S.”

Rubio has introduced a bill, “The Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2016‎,” which would end the “automatic eligibility for federal public assistance for Cuban nationals under the Refugee Resettlement Program, while maintaining it for those that have been persecuted that are in need of resettlement assistance.”

He has stopped short, however, of calling for an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which confers special immigration status to Cuban refugees and their families who set foot on U.S. soil.

The law gives Cubans who make it into the U.S., including their spouses and family members, the right to apply for legal permanent residence within one year – originally two years – of being in the country.

The act was amended in 1995 to specify that Cubans detained at sea while trying to enter the U.S. would be sent back to Cuba.

Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) have introduced a bill to repeal the 1966 law, removing the special rights of Cuban migrants who make it onto U.S. soil to apply for residence.

According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the bill would also “address rampant abuse of taxpayer dollars” by ending “automatic eligibility for federal benefits for Cuban nationals under the Refugee Resettlement Program.”

The bill calls upon the Social Security Administration to report on how many Cubans living in Cuba are collecting federal benefits such as Supplemental Security Income.

The number of Cuban migrants entering the U.S. “spiked dramatically” after President Obama renewed diplomatic relations at the end of 2014, according to federal immigration records acquired by the Pew research center under a freedom of information request.

Some 46,635 Cuban migrants made it to U.S. soil in the first ten months of fiscal year 2016 – more than all of FY 2015, when Cuban arrivals increased 78 percent over 2014, the records showed.

A majority of those 46,635 Cuban migrants (64 percent) arrived at the Texas border rather than risking a Caribbean crossing by boat.

Cuban migrants’ preference for a Mexican border crossing has been copied by “an unprecedented number of Haitian and African migrants,” according to a Migration Policy Institute study of shifts in migration routes released this month.

“Haitian and African migrants traveling by land are less likely to be returned while en route than those traveling by sea, who are more likely to face U.S. maritime enforcement,” the study found.

The surge in U.S.-bound migrants using Central and South American countries as a starting point prompted nine Latin American countries to ask the U.S. government last August to end the special treatment of Cubans afforded by the Cuban Readjustment Act, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“There is no justification for having a separate immigration policy for Cuba than for the rest of the world which is what we have,” said FAIR media director Ira Mehlman.

“Looking at it in retrospect, it has probably impeded political change in Cuba when you take all of the dissidents out of the country and there is no one left to challenge the regime.”

“Our view is that Cubans should be treated the same as everybody else,” Mehlman said. “Most of the people coming out of Cuba today are economic migrants and not refugees.”

Omar Lopez, human rights director at the Cuban American National Foundation disagreed.

“The situation hasn’t fundamentally changed in Cuba, so there shouldn’t be any fundamental changes in the U.S. policy towards Cuban refugees,” he said.

“Cuba is still the only communist county in Latin America. Nothing has changed in Cuba. There are still violations of human rights and the Cuban penal code and constitution punish the fundamental freedoms of the people,” Lopez said.

Referring to the Cuban Adjustment Act,, Lopez said that “these benefits could be reviewed once Cuba becomes a democracy with a multi-party system.”

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