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What's So Special about Cuba?

Friday, October 29, 2010 - 05:34 PM

Rodolfo de la Garza

Why are Cuban unauthorized immigrants treated so well?

The simple answer is that for five decades the rules governing Cuban migration have been dictated by foreign policy concerns. This led officials to define them as refugees, i. e. individuals who had to escape their homeland because of a well-founded fear of persecution. As refugees, they are eligible for benefits unavailable to immigrants, such as loans for airfare if they are outside the US, as is the case with Cubans who come to the US via Spain, and they are also entitled to refugee assistance for one year after arrival or medical assistance and welfare for two years. 

The government's willingness to grant them this status is in keeping with the nation's outstanding record of openness, as attested to by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who describes the United States as the most welcoming nation for displaced people and those fleeing oppression and conflict. 

The root of this warm welcome, which began in the 1960s, however, is not American generosity but rather the desire to discredit Cuba by showing that it, like other Communist states, was morally bankrupt and politically vicious. What better way to do that than to accept all those who wanted to flee that totalitarian state?  While foreign policy makers might have argued that all dealings with Cuba had to be consistent with such Cold War claims, that argument could only hold until the Cold War's end in 1991.

The policy persists today, albeit in somewhat modified form, thanks primarily to the influence of Cuban American elites, including the Congressional delegation from Miami and Senator Menendez of New Jersey. Their efforts have overridden pressure from a wide array of US interest groups, like conservative Midwestern farmers who want access to Cuban markets. These groups probably aren't concerned about Cubans being granted refugee status. Indeed, it is likely that the refugee vs. immigrant issue isn't salient to anyone except the Cuban beneficiaries.

This provision is one more example of the hypocrisy that runs throughout our immigration policy. Whatever justification existed for the policy prior to 1991 no longer exists. Today, Cuban émigrés are motivated by the same factors that drive immigration from other sending states. The threat of violence faced by most citizens of Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico is far greater than that faced by Cubans. Moreover, for years officials in these and other sending states responded with greater violence to their critics than Cuba has.

It is also important to note that Cuba invests in social policies that enhance the wellbeing of its citizens at levels unequaled by immigrant sending states such as Mexico and Guatemala, and their African counterparts. In short, the social and political conditions Cubans face are not obviously more dire than those faced by citizens in other major immigrant sending states.

Other Latin American immigrants are familiar with the preferential treatment Cuban unauthorized immigrants receive, and they oppose it. They point out that emigration is hard for everyone, and that they come because they want to escape violence and improve their lives. In other words, they describe many immigrants in terms that could lead a sympathetic, immigrant-receiving state to provide all immigrants with the benefits that only Cubans systematically receive. 

As a matter of principle, and given our self-image as a nation committed to fair play, we should immediately end the favoritism with which we treat Cuban unauthorized immigrants.

Rodolfo de la Garza, a Columbia University professor of Political Science, has studied immigration, political attitudes and voting for over 30 years. He directed the first national political survey of Latinos and has authored, co-authored and edited 18 books and more than 100 scholarly articles and reports on foreign policy, immigration and political attitudes and behavior.

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Comments [19]

Blanclage from Princeton, New Jersey

Prof. Garza,
Your comments are not appropriate for an academic who is supposed to remain objective and base professional opinions on empirical data, especially if you disclose your academic affiliation. However here are some facts from the the US Census Bureau for your perusal: U.S. Census Bureau: Facts about Cuban-Americans

Cuban-Americans have acquired an enormous amount of wealth and prosperity in an extremely short period of time; no other immigrant group has achieved this as quickly as the Cubans. Many immigrants have never achieved it at all, despite being in this country far longer than Cubans.

Second-generation Cuban-Americans were more educated than even Anglo-Americans. More than 26.1% of second-generation Cuban-Americans had a bachelor's degree or better versus 20.6% of Anglos. Thus Cuban-Americans in 1997 were approximately 25% more likely to have a college degree than Anglos. Other Hispanic groups lag far behind. Only 8.1% of South Americans had a bachelor's or better. Puerto Ricans, despite being U.S. citizens by birth, recorded a disappointing 11%; Mexicans only 7%. In 1997, 55.1% of second-generation Cuban-Americans had an income greater than $30,000 versus 44.1% of Anglo- Americans.

Thus Cuban-Americans are approximately 20% more likely to earn more than $30,000 than their Anglo-American counterparts. All other Hispanic groups lag far behind in average income. In 1997, 36.9% of second-generation Cuban-Americans had an income greater than $50,000 versus 18.1% of Anglo- Americans. Cuban-Americans were twice as likely to earn more than $50,000. Also, approximately 11% of Cuban-Americans had incomes greater than $100,000 versus 9% of Anglo-Americans, and less than 2% of other Hispanics.

Cubans comprise less than 4% of the U.S. Hispanic population, Mexicans 65%, Puerto Ricans 10%, Central and South Americans 11%, and "others" Yet of the top 100 richest Hispanics in the U.S., more than 50% are of Cuban descent (ten times what it should be on a population basis), and 38% of Mexican descent. The rest is scattered among all other Hispanic groups.

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It has nothing to do with luck, it correlates with hard work.

Jul. 14 2013 11:23 PM
eric

It all comes down to envy. We Cuban-americans are only 1.5 million in the USA. That's nothing compared to other hispanics that have been here longer and in greater numbers. But we have the smartest and hardest working community compared almost to the Jewish community, the greatest % of profesionals and millionares even compared to the aglo-whites. They let other groups in just the same and in greater numbers but they are lazy and stupid and usually fail so they always look for someone to blame.Get used to it Cubans and Jews = success and $$$. :)

Jun. 17 2012 07:02 AM
Roberto E Fiad from Miam, Florida

It seems that none of you understand the SS-effectiveness of Fidel Castro's state security. Security over there is so tight you can't move a finger without those guys being in your face. Even if you have a dream about killing Castro and talking about it will land you in a torture chamber.

Jul. 02 2011 04:07 PM
Grace Solis from California

I have always wondered why, if the people of Cuba hate Castro so much, have they not taken Cuba back? With the US behind them it should be relatively easy. From what I have been able to read Castro was able to succeed because he had the common citizen behind him (with the aid of Russian weapons and Che Guevara). But really, if there is so much opposition against Castro you would think that there already would have been another revolution and not exile.

Nov. 09 2010 05:36 PM
PolO Avilés from Texas

That's exactly what Castro says.

Nov. 07 2010 06:31 PM
Cubanology.com from New York

Julio Cesar, you don't respect Cuban-Americans and you probably don't personally know any Cuban-Americans because if you did, you wouldn't be saying what you are saying. And did you ever hear of the Bay of Pigs Invasion??? You want us Cuban-Americans to gather arms and attack the Castro regime's army. All with no support from almost any other Latin American country. If there was another Bay of Pigs you would see a significant turnout, believe me. It seems that you should again begin to get involved with more subversive actions against Mr. Ortega, the one that you were supposedly fighting against then. The one who is a "Long" time buddy of the Castro regime. I have friends here in New York City who are from all Latin American countries and they all seem to be in accord with Cuban-American's point of view. It never enters into any conversation, if we are getting more preference then other "refugees." We all have our stories and we share them. Mr. De la Garza is making an issue out of nothing and at the same time, trying separate Cuban-Americans from the rest of the "Refugees" that enter the United States. Look at it this way, you either Love Cuban-Americans and respect them or you love Fidel Castro and his regime. Simply, that's the choice you have. Cuban-Americans represent freedom in Cuba and the Castro regime represents a Totalitarian government in Cuba. One way or the other, make your decision. Simple as that!

Nov. 03 2010 03:04 AM
Julio Cesar from New York

Rodolfo de la Garza is correct in his fair observation regarding the biased treatment of immigration from Latin America. I participated in subversive actions against the Sandinistas (a marxist and cruel military dictatorship in Nicaragua) and I was born on the east side of Manhattan, thus I don't have immigration issues.. Many Cubans with whom I have held a conversation on this topic reflect the same points that those who oppose de la Garza's views expressed here. The curious thing is that not one of them has said that they have or at least would be willing to take up arms against the Castro dictatorship. I guess it's easier to just flee to "freedom in Miami." It's all about politics and the typical Cuban-American position is simply one of convenience and not about real principals. I respect the Cuban-American community but on the issue of immigration I believe there is hypocracy towards the rest of Latinos.

Nov. 02 2010 10:52 AM
LatAm

cubans have a special immigration law, the cuban adjustment act, which grants permanent residence to just about anyone from cuba who makes it to u.s. dry land. while the u.s. opens wide the door, it maintains an economic blockade of the island with the purpose of strangling the cuban economy, so as to make life so hard that people will revolt. they don't revolt, but go for the visa. no wonder cubans keep coming to the u.s. imagine a dominicam, mexican, colombian, honduran or anything else adjustment act. then imagine such a law together with a blockade of any of those countries.

Nov. 02 2010 02:49 AM
Mar from New York

The reason we democratically minded and freedom loving Cuban Americans don't sympathize with our Latino and Hispanic (whatever the politically correct word is nowadays) "brothers" and "sisters" is because a grand majority of these "brothers" have always had a soft spot in their hearts for the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro, and Che. Why would I, or my family want to commiserate with individuals that praise and love tyrannical Cuban Marxism? Besides, these so called Latino "brothers" never have cared about the human rights abuses, the suffering of political prisoners, and the killings of Cuban citizens perpetuated by the Castro dictatorship. So don't expect me to come and sympathize with illegal aliens who break American laws, and anti Americans who get pissed off simply because rational thinking law abiding Americans in Arizona are tired of illegals not respecting the rule of law. It's harsh - but if you go around lauding and loving brutal communist murderers like the Castro brothers, Chavez, or Che, you are garbage to the cause of freedom.

Nov. 01 2010 11:48 PM
Maurica from NJ

Finally someone has been honest in speaking the truth about the preferential treatment of Cuban immigrants in this country. I myself migrated here from Jamaica with my parents in the 80's. We left by choice and had the freedom to visit our country, which I sympatize with those who have had to flee their countires to avoid persecution or death. However, when I speak to Cubans about safeguarding our borders and Arizona's unethical law of criminalizing immigrants, they have been very unsympathetic to their Hispanic/ Latin brothers and sisters. As an immigrant myself, I could not comprehend this attitude of elitism- but now it all makes sense to me.

Nov. 01 2010 10:21 PM
Roger Goor from LONDON

Rodolfo de la Garza, a Columbia University professor of Political Science,

Remind me not to send my children to study at Columbia as long as this professor is teaching!!!!!

Nov. 01 2010 02:58 PM
Cubanology.com from New York

Hey Professor of "Latino" Immigration. Why don't you turn your attention and begin to condemn the Castro regime, which is the reason why Cubans flee Cuba now and for the last 51 years. Why don't you explain how the Castro regime has aided "all" the Communist totalitarian governments "around the world" before 1991 and after 1991. Or any other country that despises America. You don't consider accepting and "protecting" any refugee, no matter where they come from, as American generosity?? And you don't think there is any "strong" repercussion in Cuba against anyone who raises "their voice" against the Castro regime. Fidel Castro has murdered more Cubans than any other Latin American government has. Remember, 51 years "professor." 65,000 is the estimated number of Cubans who have lost their life in the ocean trying to escape Cuba in a raft. That's just for starters, mister know-it-all. Did you know that there were 300,000 political prisoners in Cuba in 1960?? Stop wasting your foolish time trying to put down poor innocent people who are trying to escape any Totalitarian government and focus more on the reason "why" all these refugees, from all countries around the world, are "escaping" in the first place. It seems to me that you have been misinformed and in turn, you are misinforming anyone who reads this futile and deliberate attack on all Cuban "REFUGEE" Exiles, here in America. Is this the best you can do "professor" and what's so special about you?????

Nov. 01 2010 02:30 AM
LatAm

Trujillo, Batista, the Duvaliers, the Somozas, Stroessner, and the dictatorships in Guatemala, Brazil and Bolivia, among others, did not result in the US opening up to refugees. But those dictatorships were all friends of the US, when not put into power by the US.
The first Cuban "refugees" were the thugs and corrupt political pals of Batista. Even today, the US protects mass-murder terrorists like Posada Carriles and Bosch.
It's not about big words starting with capitals --Democracy, Freedom, Liberty. It's about control of the hemisphere for resources, markets, and labor.

Oct. 31 2010 10:46 PM
Marie from Miami

Que culpa tengo yo de haber nacido en CUBA ?

Oct. 30 2010 07:03 PM
Robert from MIAMI

US Census Bureau. Facts about Cuban American:
Cuban Americans have acquired an enormous amount of wealth and prosperity in an extremely short period of time; no other immigrant group has achieved this as quickly as the Cubans. Many immigrants have never achieved it at all, despite being in this country far longer than Cubans.

Second-generation Cuban-Americans were more educated than even Anglo-Americans. More than 26.1% of second-generation Cuban-Americans had a bachelor's degree or better versus 20.6% of Anglos. Thus Cuban-Americans in 1997 were approximately 25% more likely to have a college degree than Anglos.

Other Hispanic groups lag far behind. Only 18.1% of South Americans had a bachelor's or better. Puerto Ricans, despite being U.S. citizens by birth, recorded a disappointing 11%; Mexicans only 7%.

In 1997, 55.1% of second-generation Cuban-Americans had an income greater than $30,000 versus 44.1% of Anglo- Americans. Thus Cuban-Americans are approximately 20% more likely to earn more than $30,000 than their Anglo-American counterparts. All other Hispanic groups lag far behind in average income.

In 1997, 36.9% of second-generation Cuban-Americans had an income greater than $50,000 versus 18.1% of Anglo- Americans. Cuban-Americans were twice as likely to earn more than $50,000. Also, approximately 11% of Cuban-Americans had incomes greater than $100,000 versus 9% of Anglo-Americans, and less than 2% of other Hispanics.

Cubans comprise less than 4% of the U.S. Hispanic population, Mexicans 65%, Puerto Ricans 10%, Central and South Americans 11%, and "others" 10%. Yet of the top 100 richest Hispanics in the U.S., more than 50% are of Cuban descent (ten times what it should be on a population basis), and 38% of Mexican descent. The rest is scattered among all other Hispanic groups.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Oct. 30 2010 12:34 PM
Robert from miami

I believe in fair threatment to everyone so if that should be the way WHY do we have the BLOCKADE on cuba and not other countries?
Colombia our friend is responsible for the death of thousands of Americans with there illegal product COCAINE.
Why not block all business there that would stop Cocaine from entering the US.
The Cuban refugee act is to save those poor souls that are cought in the middle of a old political fight between both countries.

Oct. 30 2010 12:10 PM
Robert from Miami

Rodolfo, your written is interesting yet extremely uninformative. Have you overlooked the foreign and domestic political policies that imprison the average Cuban.
For example Cuba has a brutal dictorship that censors the basic freedoms unlike any country in the western hemisphere not to mention the economical, financial and commercial blockade that the US has imposed on the Cuban people. So what those mean is in plain old English is that the average Cuban is imprisoned in an island jail. The Mexican has a free society and enjoys the basic human rights like most western countries. In Cuba a person is jail up to 20 years for saying what is on there minds.

Oct. 30 2010 11:59 AM
Juan Cabellero from Florida

Maybe you should mention the treatment legal immigrants receive, free medcaid, free food stamps, monthly living assistance, 5 years of college or grad school free, etc. all coming out of taxpayers pockets and going to someone who has never paid taxes in the US. I pay taxes but can't get 5 years free college for my kids or myself, free medical, free food. All thanks primarily to the influence of CORRUPT Cuban American elites, including the Congressional delegation from Miami and Senator Menendez of New Jersey and apathy on the part of other US taxayersd.

Oct. 30 2010 09:51 AM
Pedro Animala from Washington DC


Unequal justice for all.
This, along with many others, is a very stupid policy. We often hear politicians say this is a nation of laws and principles..well, their hypocrisy shines thought and clear when it comes to cuban illegals.

Oct. 30 2010 07:20 AM

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