Rep. Cuellar Wants to Change the Law Giving Cuban Border-Crossers 'Pure Amnesty'

By Susan Jones | June 2, 2016 | 11:05am EDT
Cuban migrants talk with a Costa Rican immigration official at the border with Nicaragua as they try to make their way to the United States. (AP File Photo)

( - It's time to change the Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives automatic amnesty -- and taxpayer assistance -- to the tens of thousands of Cubans who are making their way to U.S. soil, says Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

"I think the taxpayers need to know we're spending almost $2.5 billion dollars a year on this blanket amnesty that we're giving to the Cubans," Cuellar told CSPAN on Thursday.

Under the longstanding Cuban Adjustment Act, Cubans who make it to "dry land" are put on a fast-track to permanent legal status and eventually, citizenship. They are automatically eligible for a host of welfare benefits.

"The moment you cross over, they don't have to fear deportation, they don't have to fear detention centers. They start filling out the refugee assistance, they can $1,500, $1,800 for that. They can apply for food stamps, they can apply for housing. No other group gets that immediate help.

"So, no matter who it is, they come in -- as a blanket, they get that support."

Following the recent reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, tens of thousands of Cubans have fled Cuba's weak economy, streaming into the United States to take advantage of the special status conferred on them by U.S. law.

On March 22, a Homeland Security official told Congress that so far in 2016, encounters with Cuban migrants at land ports of entry have increased 84.3 percent over the same period in fiscal year 2015. For all of fiscal 2015, 43,334 Cubans arrived at the Southwest border, most of them coming in through the Laredo port of entry, which is in Cuellar's congressional district.

"We need to change that law," Cuellar said on Thursday, referring to the Cuban Adjustment Act. "We need to make sure, that if they want to come in, if they have credible fear, if (they have) an asylum claim, they do it on a case by case basis just like Mexicans, Central Americans, anybody else. They have to go before an immigration judge, prove their case. If the judge says yes, then we go ahead, they stay -- or they go back.

"But what they're getting right now is pure amnesty -- pure amnesty, because no other group gets (treated) like that.

"I want to change the law, along with some of my colleagues, but we know very well this is a presidential year, it's not going to happen. I want to go back again and try to save the taxpayers money."

Cuellar pointed to a Congressional Budget Office analysis showing that in the next 8 years, if the law is changed, "we will save the U.S. taxpayer...almost $2.5 billion dollars...because we're giving away this amnesty and assistance to every Cuban that comes in, instead of going on a case by case basis and helping the ones that truly, truly need the assistance.

"So we need to change the Cuban Adjustment Act, with all due respect to my Cuban friends, yes we do. It's not fair, it's amnesty, it's special preferential treatment, and I think the taxpayers need to know that we're spending over, almost $2.5 billion a year on the blanket amnesty that we're giving to the Cubans."

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