Miami Herald Editorial: Target Abuses of Cuban Refugee Law

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Target law that leads to abuse of our charity

Close loopholes in Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980.

Prompted by soaring immigration from Cuba and abuses of laws intended to help the neediest exiles, Cuban-American legislators are planning revisions to plug the holes. These changes are necessary and deserve support across the political spectrum.

As we outlined yesterday, the Cuban Adjustment Act has been on the books for nearly half a century. It may be time to consider doing away with it altogether. But let’s get real. That’s not going to happen amid a presidential campaign, nor do we advocate a knee-jerk reaction to take down a law that has done so much good for so many in our community and elsewhere in our country.

The egregious abuses that have prompted alarm are not part of the Cuban Adjustment Act, a fact often overlooked. The Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980 gives Cuban migrants access to a host of welfare benefits — cash assistance for resettlement and adjustment, Supplemental Security Income, temporary assistance for needy families, etc. — without being means tested.

Virtually no other group receives this aid except Haitians. However, Haitians do not have the benefit of the Cuban Adjustment Act. They don’t receive red-carpet treatment when they arrive. Indeed, many of them are sent back for illegal entry. Thus, those who are allowed in are relatively few and should not be denied the benefits of the 1980 law.

Cubans, who are considered political refugees, come in much greater numbers and are speedily deemed legal permanent residents. Indeed, migration rates from Cuba have hit their highest levels since 2005, with some 36,000 entering from Oct. 1, 2014, through Aug. 31 of this year.

But as the Sun-Sentinel has reported in an eye-opening series of articles, many recent arrivals manage to obtain welfare benefits conveyed by the 1980 refugee aid law, and continue to receive them directly or indirectly even when they go back home.

Cuban-American legislators, commendably, have been the most outspoken critics of this abuse. “It is outrageous that America’s generosity toward Cuban nationals is being taken advantage of by those who abuse the law,” says Sen. Marco Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants.

“They’re coming here and they’re taking welfare benefits when they’ve never worked in the United States, they’ve never contributed to the greatness of our nation and they’re taking their money and going to Cuba,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told Jim DeFede, of Herald partner CBS4 in a recent Sunday interview.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, also a Miami Republican, said he expects to propose corrective legislation soon to close the loophole that’s given Cuban migrants access to a special category of welfare benefits. “We’re definitely going to take a look at that,” he told the Editorial Board.

But this action, it bears repeating, will not affect the Cuban Adjustment Act. It could be repealed, and Cuban migrants who still managed to enter and be deemed legal residents would continue to get special welfare benefits.

That’s why Rep. Curbelo is right to target the abuses at this time. It should be a legislative priority. But other members of Congress are aiming to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act because they feel its time has passed. They’re unlikely to make much headway, but it should open a long-needed conversation, particularly in light on President Obama’s “normalization” process.

There are laws on the books to protect anyone entering this country who seeks political asylum.

Even without the Cuban Adjustment Act, exiles from that country could still seek and obtain the protections they afford. But wholesale acceptance for individuals who do not even have to claim political persecution should be discarded.