Sun-Sentinel Editorial: Pull Plug on Cuban Criminal Pipeline

Friday, January 9, 2015
From Sun Sentinel's Editorial Board:

Seal legal pipeline that lures Cuban criminals

We know the vast majority of Cubans who've immigrated here to escape a dictatorship are honest people who make enormous daily contributions to our community, economy and culture.

But a sliver of new arrivals are not here to flee political persecution. Rather, they are here to make money in the drug trade, or to rip off Medicare, retailers, auto insurance companies, banks and credit card companies.

However, until this week's groundbreaking analysis by the Sun Sentinel, never has anyone documented the jaw-dropping amount of crime being committed by this segment of immigrants, some of whom treat our nation's unique Cuban immigration policy as an invitation to steal.

Now that we know, we call upon South Florida's congressional delegation to plug the criminal pipeline that has cost American businesses and taxpayers more than $2 billion over the past two decades.

For let there be no doubt. Some of the Cuban natives now washing ashore are not political refugees. They are crooks. And they're costing us all a lot of money.

Among the startling details revealed in the Sun Sentinel's investigation: 41 percent of the people arrested for health care fraud nationwide since 2000 were born in Cuba. Think about that. Forty-one percent of health care fraud comes from a demographic that constitutes less than 1 percent of our population. The next largest group is people born in the U.S., at 29 percent of arrests, followed by Nigerians and Russians, at 3 percent each. The rest involves a hodgepodge of 70-some countries.

It's not just health care fraud, either. It's auto insurance fraud, where new recruits stage car accidents, visit friendly clinics and submit no-fault claims that keep South Florida auto insurance premiums among the highest in the nation.

It's also the theft of cargo from retailers, warehouses and tractor trailers; money from banks; and marijuana grow houses.

Again, let's be clear. The vast majority of Cubans who immigrate here are law-abiding folks who contribute positively to our community.

But many of those arriving today are coming for economic and family reasons, not because they were about to be thrown in jail for their politics. That helps explains why, since President Obama announced plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, there's been a surge in rafters. They undoubtedly fear our nation will change the wet-foot/dry-foot policy that allows most any Cuban who reaches American soil to stay, no matter what.

Can you blame them? Can you imagine trying to make ends meet in a country where the average salary is about $20 per month? To survive, it's widely accepted that people will pilfer small goods from their government jobs to trade on the black market. But our liberal immigration law is not crafted to handle those who come here and steal.

Indeed, because criminal sentences are so lenient for first-time offenders, our reporters found that for some, the lure of millions is worth the risk of a couple years in jail.

Last month, as our reporters were uncovering the schemes and analyzing the data, an enormous opportunity presented itself when President Obama announced plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.

While many, many details remain to be addressed, the president's move opens a window for fixing — if not repealing — the Cuban Adjustment Act and its unintended consequences.

Without question, Cubans who face political or religious persecution, like those from other countries, deserve safe harbor here, as has long been our nation's policy. But when it comes to immigrants seeking better economic opportunities, is it fair to continue to treat Cubans differently than those from other countries?

At a minimum, as negotiations with Cuba begin, the State Department should insist that known criminals on the island be returned to the United States for prosecution, that any stolen money be returned and that Cuban criminals imprisoned here be accepted back after they've served their time.

And as members of Congress schedule hearings on the president's approach, let them also demand testimony on the criminal pipeline enabled by today's policy.

U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart are reasonable, respected leaders on foreign policy. They know the law needs to be changed. Reportedly, Sen. Marco Rubio understands the need, too, though he has not yet made himself available to discuss it.

It's tricky business to try to normalize relations with a dictatorship you don't trust. Change will take years, not months.

But given what we now know, let our diplomats place the criminal aspects at center stage as the dialogue begins.

With a window now open, we call on Congress to pull the plug on the Cuban criminal pipeline.