Changes may be coming in the Cuban Adjustment Act
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — If Cuba had a popularity contest, I’m sure that Deputy Director of Immigration Colonel Lambert Fraga would win hands down. He has been in charge of explaining the details of the new immigration policy, and he has done a good job demonstrating that he knows how to handle words and arguments.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about Fraga is his recognition that the United States Government’s Cuban Adjustment Act is an opportunity. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time a Cuban official has made this acknowledgment publically.
This 1966 law, officially known in Cuba as the Ley Asesina (the murderous law), has been traditionally blamed for encouraging Cubans to risk their lives sailing across the Straits of Florida to reach US shores.
Nevertheless this doesn’t explain why Mexicans cross at the danger-filled desert to reach the US, or why Dominicans venture into the dreaded Paso de la Mona sea crossing without the incentive of an adjustment act (upon arriving at Puerto Rico).
The new recognition is currently being made in the specific context of the often commented upon fact that Cubans can now opt for American residency without losing their Cuban residency. As of this week, they can remain off the island for two years, which gives them the one year they need to obtain residency in the “belly of the beast” before returning to the island
“These cases,” says Fraga, “relate to those people who reach the United States and seek the coverage that is available to them under the Adjustment Act after waiting one year and a day. Now, in cases such as this, the person can be a resident in another country (in this case the United States) and maintain their Cuban residency.”
In this way the ball is now in the American court. Immediately — like Neruda, without knowing how or when — Cuban representatives affiliated with the Republican rightwing began seeking new reforms to US immigration policy, arguing that there’s a contradiction in the fact that Cubans receive relief for escaping from a “communist” country but then they return to visit it the first chance they get.
They’re correct in a strict and formally logical sense. It’s just that we can’t forget that for decades these politicians have been supporters of the Adjustment Act and that they are the ones who linked the Helms Burton Act to it in such a way that it is impossible to change it without affecting the totality of that law.
In the short term, it’s predictable that the executive will make some minor regulatory reforms, such as in the provisions of the “Wet Feet – Dry Feet” policy, which will do little more than give the guards at the Mexican border a break.
What’s also predictable is an increase in the number of a new type of Cuban immigrant. These will be immigrants who are more “normal,” like the Dominicans and Salvadorans who maintain one foot in their country and one in the US, and thus shaping vigorously transnational communities.
In the medium term, the law will have to be repealed. This should be an ingredient of normalization, which apparently Obama wants in his second term and that hopefully could be take advantage of by the Cuban government.
And for now we have the immediate of delight of seeing the Havana-Miami political zoo turned around.
Just as Cuban officials turned maggots into butterflies yesterday, today they are converting the “murderous law” into an opportunity for a better life.
Meanwhile others are reacting as they realize that their anti-Castro crusade is sinking in the dark. They’ re seeing how they themselves will end up condemned — as Sor Juana put it — for the sins they financed.
But what’s much more important to me would be seeing thousands of Cubans continuing to benefit from the blunders of their politicians.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published by Cubencuentro.com.