An Op-Ed piece by Lizette Alvarez for The Washington Post.
I want to publicly thank the U.S. government and its taxpayers. Why, exactly? Because this country turned my Cuban family and the 2.3 million other Cuban Americans — migrants or their descendants — into the beneficiaries of the single most generous immigration policy in U.S. history.
Unfortunately, six decades of unparalleled government largesse — via laws, orders, regulations and accommodations — don’t often feature in the Cuban American origin story of hard work, professional know-how and university pedigrees. Yet these considerable advantages played a crucial role in helping Cuban Americans become a powerful Latino community.
So I now plead with my fellow Cuban Americans: Never forget just how fortunate our community was, and mostly still is, in the face of the terror and hardship experienced by so many Cubans after the 1959 Cuban communist revolution.
The United States granted us a gilded haven.
Please remember that fact in the narratives we tell each other and others, especially as Haitians, Venezuelans, Salvadorans and Hondurans are shoulder-to-shoulder with Cubans in their quest to cross the border. And the Cuban exodus continues: Some 250,000 Cubans have entered the country this year, according to U.S. government statistics — most of them crossing over from Mexico after flying to a third country, such as Nicaragua.
Despite our good fortune, far too many Cuban Americans in South Florida heartlessly espouse MAGA-fueled anti-immigration sentiments toward equally worthy refugees. Too often, my fellow Cuban Americans let their sense of exceptionalism cloud their hearts. Have decades of comfort snuffed out their empathy?
Instead, they should be arguing that their own story is the template for how other refugees should be treated, regardless of whether the pain is caused by left-wing or right-wing governments.
Yet, this month, Cuban Americans publicly pilloried author and academic Susan Eckstein, who came to Miami to discuss her book, “Cuban Privilege: The Making of Immigrant Inequality in America.” The title lit the fuse, “privilege” being dismissed by critics as “woke.”
A Miami-Dade commissioner called the book “hate-filled” and “anti-Cuban.” Other public figures attacked the author as a bigoted lefty. The event drew so much attention, it was moved to Florida International University, a sponsor of the talk. Protesters and police greeted Eckstein’s arrival. A rebuttal speaker was added to the roster.
At the talk, Eckstein’s critics made clear that they believe Cubans still deserve special treatment because they fled, and still flee, a repressive, one-party communist state, a mere 90 miles from the United States, that deprives citizens of civil liberties. In other words, Cubans are exceptional because their suffering is exceptional.
Except it isn’t. Just ask Haitians in Miami who have long suffered under terror and misrule, or ask the Central Americans who fled civil wars.
As Eckstein observes in her book, the entitlements that our Cuban community has received are legion, unique and should be applied to others as well. Let’s start with the crown jewel of America’s pro-Cuban immigration policy — a 1966 Cold War relic called the Cuban Adjustment Act.
The law allows most Cubans who meet certain requirements to become permanent legal U.S. residents after a year and a day. It has been the pathway for the overwhelming majority of Cuban Americans who have built their lives in the United States, even though policy changes by the past two administrations have made it more difficult but far from impossible.
The law basically presumes they are refugees without requiring them to be judged case by case. And, unlike a handful of other similar laws for other migrants from other places, it has no expiration date. Quick residency also means quicker citizenship, which Cuban Americans have wisely parlayed into voting power. When Florida was a swing state, until recent years, Cuban Americans wielded outsize political influence on Cuba-related U.S. policy. Now that the state leans Republican, the influence remains intact with politicians who want to keep it that way.
The advantages for Cuban migrants have extended well beyond the Cuban Adjustment Act. My mother, sister and brother arrived in Miami in 1961, and my father, a pilot, arrived three weeks later after commandeering the plane he was flying. They received government benefits and work authorization like most of the other Cubans who followed.
Other Cuban arrivals, depending on the year, havereceived low-interest loans for small businesses and college (my brother attended college on one) and cash assistance, food and clothes (all of which my family received). Those who had been doctors or lawyers in Cuba got help when they sought recertification to work in the United States.
And this is a partial list.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose parents left Cuba before the revolution, has bemoaned the fact that Cuban Americans now seem to come here strictly for economic reasons, not political ones, given their frequent visits to the island. Yet they still receive myriad U.S. benefits unavailable to other economic refugees.
In the new year, as the border crisis is sure to worsen, I urge my fellow Cuban Americans to lead by example and demand that migrants from other nations be given the same opportunities that the U.S. government has showered on us.