Cuban nationals are streaming across our border with Mexico in record numbers. Our policy toward Cuban citizens who set foot on U.S. soil is to treat them as presumptive refugees. They are allowed to enter and can gain permanent residency after just one year.
After decades of intermittent flows of Cuban migrants making the dangerous voyage across the Straits of Florida, most are now choosing to fly to Central America and make their way north by land or air. In El Paso, Texas, shelters, churches and local officials are gearing up to receive as many as 350 new Cuban arrivals each day. These Cuban migrants transit through Panama before landing in Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso.
The spike in Cuban migration has nothing to do with political conditions in Cuba, or even significant economic changes in that country. Rather, the motivating factor is fear that normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba might result in repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), under which Cuban migrants get preferential treatment from our immigration system.
“Now that diplomatic relations have improved, individuals are scared that they may cast off the [CAA] and in the event that they do, they’ll get stuck in a really oppressive nation,” says Melissa Lopez, a spokeswoman for a group that provides assistance to the migrants. That assessment is echoed by Marta Molina, a recent arrival from Cuba. “We want to make sure we are safe in the U.S. before it would be impossible or more difficult to get here.”
So, if the advocates for the migrants are telling us that they’re not refugees, and the Cuban migrants themselves are telling us that they’re not refugees, why do we continue to treat them like they are? Despite concern by Cubans who are openly exploiting the CAA that it might be repealed, there does not appear to be any meaningful effort to terminate the 50-year-old law.
In the meantime, more and more Cubans are taking us up on the open invitation to crash our borders because few people in Washington have the political courage to repeal a failed and outdated Cold War policy.