Broken Borders, Broken System: Reform immigration law that lets Cubans walk into Texas

logoThe Monitor Editorial Board 

5494c62c84e30.imageWe all know that the Cold War has long waned and that the United States’ relationship with Cuba is markedly improved, even allowing the American flag to be flown in Havana at our newly opened embassy there, and drawing Pope Francis to both countries last September where he urged reconciliation.

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Therefore we don’t understand why a 50-year-old U.S. law that allows an immediate pathway to permanent U.S. residency for any Cuban who steps onto U.S. soil is still on the books today, especially when so many other Hispanic immigrants are detained or turned back from our borders.

This law is fueling a recent surge of Cubans who are crossing into South Texas with impunity.

We agree with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who in a recent editorial board meeting with The Monitor told us he is against this policy.

We applaud Cuellar for bringing to light this unfair and antiquated law that Congress needs to change. And we respect his repeated calls for Washington to implement meaningful immigration reform, which includes changing this law and considering the plight of other Hispanic migrants.

“With all due respect to the Cubans, I don’t think they ought to get preferential treatment. I think they ought to be treated like everybody else,” Cuellar said. “We ought to change the law.”

Last month, Cuellar traveled to Costa Rica where he said he witnessed thousands of Cubans who are awaiting migration north through El Salvador and Mexico and into South Texas. An estimated 8,000 Cubans have been stranded at the border with Nicaragua since mid-November when Nicaragua, Belize and Guatemala shut their borders to Cuban migrants looking to travel through their territory en route to the United States.

In the past two years there has been an upswing in Cubans coming to the United States via the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.

In 2014 and 2015, 67,437 Cubans have come into the United States, with nearly 44,000 entering in Laredo. And we’re told thousands more are on their way to South Texas.
Commonly known as the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, Cubans know that if they make it to U.S. soil then they are given automatic entry but those stopped on U.S. waterways may be turned back. Therefore they are now coming en masse via a land bridge from Central America through Mexico and into South Texas, where they are not detained by federal authorities — unlike the thousands from Central America and Mexico who are fleeing violence, gangs, drugs and unspeakable horrors, yet are detained and many turned back under U.S. laws.

In addition, Cuellar points out that under the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980, Cubans also are afforded immediate refugee assistance programs and federal benefits, such as food stamps and health care in our country, which other immigrants who are appealing for asylum are not privy to.

“The moment they come in, regardless of the situation, they can get federal benefits right away,” Cuellar said. “Who else gets this type of (deal?) Nobody gets this so it’s not fair for everybody and we ought to change it.”

Cuellar is a member of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations and sits on the Subcommittee for Homeland Security. Recently he was key to helping appropriate $750 million for aid to Central American countries, like Costa Rica, which are dealing with an influx of migrants trying to get to the United States. We believe this is money well spent to extend our border to the “20-yard-line” as Cuellar put it and to give these other countries more resources to help screen and process and warn these people of the perils of travel.

Costa Rica, however, is asking for more U.S. money to deal with these Cubans who are driven through their country because of our 50-year-old law. As is evident, this law has many other repercussions and in light of world events it cannot be argued that Cubans are fleeing the worst atrocities and should not be give automatic U.S. entry when others are not.

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