Deadly Enticement OK When It’s Cuba
Hundreds of thousands of people attempt to reach the US illegally each year. A shot at the American dream, a reunited family, a better paying job or merely escaping from turmoil are some of the reasons that impel people to place their lives in the hands of human smugglers and risk everything to cross the border.
Traveling overland to the US is often treacherous, involving unscrupulous traffickers, bribes of police and border officials, robbers, and climatic extremes of heat and cold. Those who are caught anywhere along the way are immediately deported.
Those who succeed will join the ranks of other illegal immigrants, facing a clandestine life, exploitation without basic rights, and the constant threat of deportation. Those who have children with them run the risk of being separated after raids of factories, farms and other workplaces.
Some go well counseled of the risks involved, while others will learn when or if they arrive. In an election year like 2008, they become a political football with amnesty at one goal post, deportation at the other and the candidates taking up their positions at the extremes or somewhere in the middle.
In the case of Mexicans, Haitians, Colombians, Filipinos or Salvadorans it would be difficult to accuse the US government of enticing them to come. While it is clear that Washington’s foreign and economic policies have greatly increased poverty and inspired a new, massive emigration, the official US policy has been one of discouragement for all illegal immigration.
A DIFFERENT BALL GAME FOR CUBANS
In the case of Cuba the rules change, but not the dangers. The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act grants any Cuban making it to US soil immediate temporary residency, a work permit, social security assistance, and virtually automatic permanent residency within a year.
Trying to reach the US by sea is even more dangerous than the land journey. But the US Congress encourages Cubans to gamble with their lives and those of their children, offering a big reward if they hit land. Over the decades, there have been thousands who didn’t make it and were never found.
The special law to lure Cubans has led to a flourishing smuggling business involving traffickers based in Florida with associates also working out of Mexico and Central America. These smugglers charge $8,000 to $12,000 per passenger on overcrowded speedboats.
During the last few days of 2007 and beginning of 2008, several news reports captured the human tragedy of this legal enticement.
The headlines couldn’t be more descriptive: Cubans Fear Families Lost at Sea; Two Cuba Migrants Die in Boat Capsize; Migrant Smuggling Spiked in Past Month; U.S. Plays Game With Cuban Immigrants; 40 Cubans Vanish during Crossing to Florida; Boat Capsizes near Miami, 8 Cubans Die.
Havana has repeatedly denounced the Cuban Adjustment Act as a killer law and demanded its repeal. However, the petition has fallen on deaf ears as the powerful Miami based Cuban-American lobby, with good connections in both the Republican and Democratic Parties, prefers the status quo.