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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.

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U-Turn in Cuba/US Relations

Yesterday, Mr. Obama announced that the US and Cuba will resume diplomatic relations after 55 years of dysfunction and belligerence. Predictably, a few Congressional leaders and Republican presidential hopefuls lashed out at the president and the decision. Jeb Bush said:

The benefactors of President Obama’s ill-advised move will be the Castro brothers.

This was followed by these predictable words from Sen. McCain (R-AZ) and his paramour, Sen. Huckleberry Butch Me Up (R-SC), who said that the policy shift reflected that: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

America and the values it stands for [are] in retreat and decline…It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs and adversaries, diminishing America’s influence in the world.

The Obama party line is: “the current policy has failed for 55 years. The Castro brothers have outlasted 8 US presidents. Let’s try something different.”

And here we are. This is now possible because the first generation of Cuban émigrés no longer completely control the Cuban voting bloc in Florida, the most crucial swing state to both parties. Consider the following:

• According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 1.9 million Cuban-Americans in the US. 70% of Cuban-Americans live in Florida, making them the most geographically concentrated of the 12 largest Hispanic origin groups.
• We know that the younger Cuban-Americans shifted toward the left during the 2012 election. In 2012, Obama won a majority of the Cuban-American vote in Miami. He won Cubans nationally by two points.

Here is how the political sands have shifted:

Cuban Political Preference

Thus, politics no longer drives the decision about our relationship with Cuba. Our 55 year-old hard line position was more about those upper middle class Cuban-American émigrés who hoped that the embargo would eventually force the return of houses that they abandoned 55 years ago when they left Cuba for Miami.

A final reason why this works for both sides right now is the Saudi decision to force lower oil prices. Cuba cannot sustain its economy on its own. As an example, Cuba now imports an estimated 80% percent of the food its people consume, at a cost of more than $1.5 billion per year. Venezuela has been Cuba’s prime financial benefactor, but the Venezuelan economy is in terrible shape, even before the current sharp decline in the price of oil, which is its primary source of state revenue.

They will soon be forced to cut Cuba’s rations. That will be a huge opening for the US, particularly since Cuba’s former benefactor, Russia, has its own economic difficulties as well.

Despite the Republican bleating about Cuba as a communist dictatorship with a horrible human rights record, being a communist government with horrible human rights record hasn’t stopped America from dealing with China, which these same Republicans think is just fine.

So why not trade with Cuba? How can trade with Cuba be a sign of political weakness, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to global economic progress and a spirit of international harmony?

It’s been wrong for the US to continue to hold a cold war grudge against Cuba. The US could most readily help the people of Cuba by opening up trade between the two countries.

Let’s close with a song about going to Cuba by Jackson Browne:

Sample lyric:
I’m going to drink the Ron Anejo
and walk out on the Malecon
in one hand a Monte Cristo
and in the other an ice cream cone.

And they truly love their ice cream.

Good luck to the Cubans, a lovely people, and a lovely country.

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