Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) has introduced a bill to amend the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), an measure that will surely create tension in the Cuban-American exile community, but one that is long overdue. If enacted, the amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act would strip residency preferences for Cubans who traveled to Cuba after they arrived in the U.S. claiming political persecution.
Enacted in 1966, the same year that Leonid Brezhnev became First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, the CAA has basically afforded Cubans fleeing Communist repression since 1959 a quick and well-earned path to permanent U.S. residence and, eventually, citizenship. Why do this as a matter of policy? Because it bothered the Cuban regime, but also rewarded freedom-seekers to start anew in a country that respects rule of law and basic human freedoms. As with any law, however, it has been abused.
The CAA made sense then, and for certain individuals on the island today, it still does. Yet the Communist Party has used this law to its advantage as well. Through the years people loyal to the Cuban system or folks just tired of living an economically destitute existence, arrived in the U.S. to start a new life. While many of these folks forget Cuba once they taste what freedom is all about, some do not. This latter crowd is responsible for the creation of Cuban regime profit centers that the Cuban government desperately needs to remain in power.
That the Castro regime has supporters living in South Florida is no mystery. This has been the case since 1959. But what a lot of people outside of Miami do not realize is how many of these people have abused our laws and established a cottage industry of regime-supporting business and travel-related enterprises that help the Cuban government stay in power. They stay within the law, so we cannot shut them down. But we can make it harder for them to do business and that is what Rep. Rivera’s bill can do if it is enacted.
What is the most pernicious is that these regime supporting businesses do as the Castro brothers have done since they came to power, they exploit the family unit to make a quick buck. They know that any public policy position that divides the family will be controversial for an American politician. Could you imagine telling a constituent that you cannot travel to visit a loved one dying from a terminal illness or attend a funeral?
The cold fact is that a majority of people traveling to Cuba today are not doing so because of an extreme humanitarian need or for some people to people program. Quite the opposite. It is tourism and leisure travel. Attend a birthday party, go to the doctor (more on this for another post), participate in a wedding, a family vacation, or just a long weekend every now and then to get away from it all.
Living in a totalitarian state is not easy. I never want to know what it feels like, but based on what my family has told me, and what former political prisoners have gone through, if you are going to come to the United States and avail yourself of our laws, such as the Cuban Adjustment Act, you have no business traveling to Cuba after you arrive here. As I have penned in these pages before, my family left and never went back. Ever. They never sent an aspirin or visited a sick relative.
Rep. Rivera’s amendment begins to close an immigration loophole that should have been closed a long time ago. Folks arriving from Cuba these days need to think long and hard about leaving the island. We should not repeal it, for there are folks on the island who may someday need it; however, the Cuban Adjustment Act is not an economic lifeline and its abuse by the regime needs to stopped.
There is a lot more that can and should be done, such as restricting remittances and clamping down on new travel by non-Cubans, but the Rivera CAA amendment is a good first step.