The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Special Privilege for Cuban Immigrants

Ever heard of the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) of 1966? It says that Cuban citizens don’t have to follow US immigration laws in the same way as other nationalities. If they pass a background check at the point of entry, Cubans are free to stay in the US, get jobs and pursue legal permanent residence after just one year.

The law has been maintained by nine US presidents and 25 Congresses, based on the argument that Cubans had to flee communism, making them political refugees in need of added protection. Although it has been reviewed by many presidents, including Mr. Obama in 2014, it remains in place.

But the special status for Cubans isn’t limited to a free pass into the country. In an example of anti-communism run amok, Florida politicians have gotten Congress to pass legislation that increased US government assistance to Cubans from handouts of powdered milk and cheese, to a multi-billion dollar entitlement.

Aid to Cuban immigrants — who are granted immediate access to welfare, food stamps and Medicaid — has ballooned from a $1 million federal allocation in 1960 to $680 million a year today.

How did Cubans become the only nationality with unfettered access to US government benefits? Florida’s Sun Sentinel has been writing investigative reports about Cuban privilege for some time. Today, we focus on their three-part series on extra benefits that accrue to Cubans. Part 1, Welfare to Cuba, covers the hidden news that Cuban immigrants are cashing in on US welfare and returning to Cuba, making a mockery of the premise that they are refugees fleeing persecution. Part 2, Cubans retire to Florida – with help from US taxpayers, covers the untold story of Cubans coming to Florida to retire. When they get here, they qualify immediately for food stamps and Medicaid. If they are over 65 with little or no income, they also can collect a monthly check of up to $733 in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) even though they never lived or worked here.

Part 3, Florida politicians protect special status for Cubans, shows how over the years, Florida politicians protected the special status given to Cuban immigrants, transforming US government assistance into a multi-billion dollar Cuban entitlement:

Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-FL) successfully pushed an amendment guaranteeing Cuban immigrants’ eligibility for SSI, when Congress created the program in 1972.
• During the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, Florida’s congressional delegation got Congress to authorize $100 million in financial aid to the 125,000 Cuban migrants. And they also got Congress to create a special category for Cuban immigrants that made new arrivals eligible for government benefits for decades to come.
• Cubans were able to dodge the Clinton welfare reform in the 1990s. While other immigrants were barred from benefits for five years, Cubans could collect aid upon arrival. This was orchestrated by Miami’s Cuban-American members of Congress at the time, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, (R). Ros-Lehtinen is still in Congress. BTW, Diaz-Balart’s uncle is Fidel Castro.

One of Florida’s justifications was that it should not have to shoulder the total costs of educating, housing and providing health care to thousands of new immigrants each year. So, after enshrining in law a mass migration to Florida, they outsourced the costs of the Cuban benefit program to taxpayers throughout the US.

The scamology is demonstrated by the Sun Sentinel’s investigation that found that Cubans are disproportionately represented among foreign-born recipients of SSI. In 2013, one in 10 Cubans was collecting SSI, compared to one in 25 immigrants from all other nations.

The Sun Sentinel found that the US policy of treating Cubans as refugees who require special treatment endures even as the rationale for it fades with the restoration of US-Cuba diplomatic relations. Many Cubans now come to America for economic opportunity, but they’re granted public support as victims of oppression, while frequently returning to Cuba, often staying there for months, while We the People keep paying.

Some elderly Cuban migrants move in with their grown children or relatives already here, but still receive US aid even though their families have the means to support them. The Sun Sentinel found:

• A couple with a toddler in south Miami-Dade County, with a combined annual income of $125,000, brought over the husband’s 67-year-old father, who then collected food stamps and $8,400 a year in SSI.
• A Miami Lakes woman and her husband took in her aging parents, who qualified for $7,200 a year in SSI. The family’s household income: $144,200.

Indications are that these are not isolated cases. Miami-Dade leads the nation among large counties in the percentage of people over 65 receiving SSI. About two-thirds of Miami’s elderly SSI recipients are Cuba natives.

You have probably noticed that the majority of Republicans (including all of the presidential candidates) are completely silent on this, a subject they would howl about if it were a preference for different immigrant group. And Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have been direct beneficiaries of this law.

While Florida Dems also support the CAA, it is the Republican Party who defends it, and who does a good job of keeping public awareness the Act below the radar. That will continue, since Republicans hope to see Cubans vote as a bloc to help win Florida in 2016 and secure a GOP presidential win.


Petraeus Wants to Arm al-Qaeda

(This will be the last column until Sept. 8th, as the Wrongologist goes to work preparing the fields of Wrong for fall. Happy Labor Day!)

General David Petraeus, possible VP candidate on the Moar War ticket, wrote an article in which his bright idea is to arm al-Qaeda in Syria in order to fight ISIS. The Daily Beast reports that Petraeus has been quietly urging US officials to consider using so-called “moderate” members of the al-Nusra Front, a spin-off of al-Qaeda, to fight ISIS in Syria.

Sound familiar? Every neocon has preached this idea since 2011.

The idea stems from Petraeus’ experience in Iraq in 2007, when as part of a broader strategy to defeat an Islamist insurgency, the US persuaded Sunni militias to stop fighting with al Qaeda and to work with the American military. That led to the fiction called the surge, which was compounded by the fiction that says the surge “worked”. But as Emptywheel says: (parenthesis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Al-Qaeda in Iraq was later reborn as ISIS, [which] has become the sworn enemy of its parent organization. Now, Petraeus is returning to his old play, advocating a strategy of co-opting rank-and-file members of al Nusra, (a spin-off of al-Qaeda) particularly those who don’t necessarily share all of core al Qaeda’s Islamist philosophy.

The concept of arming al-Nusra, which purports to be opposed [in some cases] to our latest enemy ISIS, which itself emerged out of a prior enemy (al-Qaeda in Iraq), ensures we will have an environment of continual enemies, and thus, continual warfare. The “arm one of our enemies to fight another of our enemies” is a bad strategy that keeps getting trotted out, usually by neocons, even though it inevitably leads to more enemies to fight down the line.

Perhaps you remember the Taliban? In an article called “McJihad: Islam in the US Global Order”, Timothy Mitchell reports the following: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

On 3 February 1997, a delegation of the Taliban government of Afghanistan visited Washington, D.C. Ten days earlier Taliban forces had won control of the countryside around Kabul, and with the south and east of the country already in their hands they were now making preparations to conquer the north. In Washington the Taliban delegation met with State Department officials and discussed the plans of the California oil company Unocal to build a pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan. A senior U.S. diplomat explained his government’s thinking: “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be Aramco, pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that.

The enemy of my enemy strategy didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. The US has always found radical, conservative Islamism preferable to nationalist or communist currents in the Middle East. It has been in bed with Salafi-Wahhabism since the Saudis founded their theocratic, reactionary state. In fact as Tom Friedman said yesterday, current day Wahhabism cannot be understood outside the dynamics of petroleum-based geo-politics.

Perhaps the headline about Gen. Petraeus’s idea should be:

David Petraeus, after overseeing a series of failed training efforts and covert efforts that led to increased radicalization, wants America to try again.

It is one thing to work clandestinely with a few bad guys, and it’s a completely different thing to do so publicly, as Petraeus would like. The Obama administration’s legal backing for fighting ISIS is based on the 2003 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) which holds:

[t]hat the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

The Department of Defense’s term of art is usually “Al-Qaeda and associated forces” or “affiliated forces” when it describes those defined in the AUMF. How then can we legally claim to fight ISIS under the AUMF when an ally in that fight is the only enemy cited in the AUMF?

And what would be DC’s plan if al-Qaeda actually won?

When ex-generals need to be consulted about foreign policy, our foreign policy has failed.