Bloomberg View

For decades, im­mi­grants from Cuba have re­ceived spe­cial treat­ment. That has to stop

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents -

Reeval­u­at­ing Cuban refugees • It’s time U.S. women reg­is­ter for the draft

Just as U.S. pol­icy to­ward Cuba has changed, so must U.S. pol­icy to­ward Cubans—specif­i­cally, those Cubans who find their way to the U.S. But the change in im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, like the change in diplo­matic pol­icy, needs to pro­ceed care­fully, or it may trig­ger the kind of cri­sis both coun­tries want to avoid.

For al­most a half-cen­tury, Cubans have re­ceived unique treat­ment un­der U.S. im­mi­gra­tion law. As long as they set foot on U.S. soil, Cubans are all but guar­an­teed ad­mis­sion. They can get a green card within a year and are ba­si­cally ex­empt from de­por­ta­tion and im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment poli­cies af­fect­ing other nonci­t­i­zens. Plus, be­cause they’re treated as refugees, they qual­ify for fed­eral as­sis­tance and other ben­e­fits.

Yet as ties have im­proved be­tween the U. S. and Cuba, some un­fore­seen con­se­quences of this pol­icy have be­come glar­ingly ev­i­dent. The eas­ing of travel re­stric­tions by both sides has led to “refugees” who freely shut­tle back and forth be­tween the two coun­tries. Un­like other refugees, Cubans can travel home with­out jeop­ar­diz­ing their U.S. im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus. More­over, the lack of rig­or­ous back­ground checks has cre­ated what Florida’s Sun-sen­tinel calls the Cuban Crim­i­nal Pipe­line, a pop­u­la­tion of petty and not-so-petty crooks, many of whom fraud­u­lently claim fed­eral ben­e­fits.

Cuban im­mi­grants have im­mea­sur­ably en­riched the U.S. But the anom­alies and wide­spread abuses of im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy to­ward Cuba have sparked an out­cry even among the most diehard op­po­nents of the Cas­tros. De­fend­ing the ex­ist­ing pol­icy is even harder in the face of the much higher hur­dles that those flee­ing violence in Syria and Cen­tral Amer­ica con­front.

Chang­ing the sys­tem comes with risks. Fears among Cubans of a shift in pol­icy have al­ready trig­gered a near-dou­bling in ar­rivals dur­ing the 2015 fis­cal year, ended Sept. 30, to 43,159. A pro­tracted bat­tle to re­peal or re­write the Cuban Ad­just­ment Act, the 1966 law that cod­i­fies U.S. im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy to­ward the coun­try, would send even more rush­ing for the ex­its.

Pres­i­dent Obama could use his ex­ec­u­tive author­ity to sub­ject all Cubans who ar­rive in the U.S., by what­ever means, to screen­ing: They’d have to prove they faced a cred­i­ble fear of per­se­cu­tion be­fore they could be paroled into the U.S. Those who are eco­nomic, rather than po­lit­i­cal, refugees would be sent back to Cuba. That change could be made rel­a­tively quickly and might de­ter many Cubans from making an ex­pen­sive and now more un­cer­tain trek. Af­ter that ad­min­is­tra­tive mea­sure is in place, Congress should then junk the Cuban Ad­just­ment Act.

Of course, the best way to per­suade Cubans to stay in Cuba would be for the U. S. Congress to drop its em­bargo and for Pres­i­dent Raúl Cas­tro to speed up the open­ing of his coun­try’s econ­omy and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. That’s the ad­just­ment Cuba really needs.

To read Noah Feld­man on SCO­TUS and Ramesh Pon­nuru on Trump and Mus­lims, go to

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