KEVIN NESLAGE – Since the passage of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, Cubans have been given preferential treatment in their immigration process to the United States. The preferential treatment has taken different forms over the years, but the lasting effect is that a Cuban who makes it to any beach or border of the United States will legally be allowed to enter and later pursue naturalization. Currently, a Cuban citizen can cross into the United States from Mexico, and be approved with paperwork to enter the United States within a matter of hours. The number of Cubans entering is not insignificant. From October 2013 to December 2015, more than 80,000 Cubans entered the country, and of this number, two in three entered at the Laredo, Texas border crossing.
Contrast this with the current situation for Mexicans and Central Americans, who are crossing the Mexican border illegally in what is often a flee from gang violence, that at minimum disrupts economic opportunity in their country and at worst threatens safety for their life. In January and February alone, nearly 50,000 immigrants were apprehended while trying to cross the border illegally. Since October, immigration authorities have deported about 29,000 individuals to Central America and about 128,000 to Mexico. For those who do make it across the border as undocumented immigrants, there remains a constant fear of being deported back to the violence from which they were fleeing. The usual remaining avenue for Mexicans and Central Americans to seek legal status is through petitions of asylum, which has little hope of succeeding in court.
This stark contrast in immigration policies has not gone unnoticed. Republican presidential primary candidate Donald Trump recently explained that the current system allowing Cubans easy access is wrong because there are people who have been waiting for years to immigrate legally. While other Republican presidential primary candidates share some hard line views with Trump on immigration, the issue of Cuban immigration is generally avoided because of the difficult political position it puts candidates in. Cuban-Americas, of which 1.3 million live in South Florida, tend to be more conservative, which helped President Bush to narrowly win the 2000 election by 547 votes. If the candidates were to address the Cuban immigration difference, it would potentially alienate a significant portion votes in important Florida elections.
While Cuba may not have the same levels of violence which often propels immigrants from other countries, there are motivations of political freedom and better economic opportunity. Throughout the negotiations to thaw relations between Cuba and the United States, one of the sticking issues continues to be human rights. During the month of January, 1414 Cubans were detained for political reasons, which was one of the highest monthly numbers in years according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Republicans in the United States have cited this as a sign of worsening human rights conditions, calling for a halt to the normalization of relations with Cuba. On the other hand, some argue that in other measurements of human rights there have been improvements on the island, such as respect of freedom of religion, freedom of travel, and the right to own private property.
The difference in Cuban immigration policy come from reasoning that made more sense 50 years ago amidst the Cold War. The US immigration laws in general are composed of patches added over the decades that quickly become outdated, and the results that it leaves can be unfair. A reason for the nature of the laws is that they are often politically charged when they are created, but do not adjust to any change in immigration patterns. This is part of the reason why current presidential candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties all offer plans on how they will fix the immigration system, although their methods of doing so differ drastically.
It does not take much convincing to the average American that immigration laws need to change, but the preference given to Cuban immigrants should not be allowed to continue when or if comprehensive immigration reform ever occurs. The laws’ impact on the demographics of the United States has created one group of Latinos that are able to take full advantage of the benefits afforded to citizens, and another group than must take lower paying jobs and living in fear of deportation. This is not a justification that immigration should continue with its large burden on the path to legal entry, but rather as Cuban-Americans have generally been considered to be a successful group in the United States, lawmakers should consider the positive effects that come from giving immigrants relatively easy paths to legal status.
 Julia Preston. Tension Simmers as Cubans Breeze Across U.S. Border. The New York Times (12 Feb. 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/13/us/as-cubans-and-central-americans-enter-us-the-welcomes-vary.html (last visited 12 Mar. 2016).
 Gustavo Valdes. Cuban Migration spikes as U.S. relations with Havana thaw. CNN (25 Feb. 2016), http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/25/americas/cuba-migrants-u-s-/ (last visited 12 Mar. 2016).
 Alan Gomez. It’s not just violence Central Americans headed for the U.S. are fleeing. USA Today (8 Mar. 2016), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/03/07/central-america-immigration-violence-economics-honduras-el-salvador/80458278/ (last visited 12 Mar. 2016).
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 Carmen Sesin. Human Rights in Cuba Back in the Spotlight as Obama’s Trip Approaches. NBC News (3 Mar. 2016), http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/human-rights-cuba-back-spotlight-obama-s-trip-approaches-n528116 (last visited 12 Mar. 2016).