Blanket Acceptance of Cubans

By Dan Stein
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 2, Number 2 (Winter 1991-1992)
Issue theme: "Getting past the immigration taboo - an international perspective"

In 1966, at the height of the Cold War, the United States instituted the Cuban Adjustment Act which, in effect, guaranteed ant Cuban citizen who made it to these shores, the right to remain permanently. Like so many Cold War-era policies, a blanket assurance of refuge for all Cubans made little sense even when East-West tensions were at their most acute. In 1991, such a policy is simply irrational.

Blindly admitting any and all Cubans who reach the US is unfair to people of other nationalities who would like to come here, is unwarranted from a human rights standpoint, and counterproductive to our long-term political objectives. For the most part, the Cubans arriving today are fleeing poverty, just as people from many other nations would like to do. And, while Cuban president Fidel Castro's human rights record is admittedly abysmal, there are all too many other governments that are as bad, or worse. If our objective is to improve these conditions, the answer is to remove the source of the problem Fidel Castro rather than relocate the Cuban population.

The Cubans who are arriving in

growing numbers are motivated by the

same aspirations as the Mexicans,

Haitians, Salvadorans and countless

other illegal immigrants.


With the elimination of subsidies from the Soviet Union, Castor's Cuba has fallen on even harder economic times than have existed throughout his 32-year dictatorship. The Cubans who are arriving in growing numbers as tourists or on leaky boats are motivated by the same aspirations as the Mexicans, Haitians, Salvadorans and countless other illegal immigrants. They are looking to escape the grinding poverty of their homeland. This is a perfectly understandable human desire. But it is inherently unfair to welcome economic migrants from one country while deporting similar migrants from almost every other country.

For decades, we have had this childish need to prove that our political and economic system was superior to communism. We have naively believed that the sight of his citizens risking life and limb to escape his regime was an embarrassment to Castro. Meanwhile, Castro has been quietly ridding his island of political opponents and emptying his prisons of criminals.

In a world with 16 million officially-recognized refugees and countless millions more at the mercy of ruthless dictatorships, warring clans and hostile neighbors, it is hard to make a case that Cubans are more persecuted than other nationalities. The abuse of human rights by Castro cannot be minimized. But neither can human rights abuses in dozens of countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.


Yet we continue to grant blanket immigration benefits to Cubans (who, as individuals, may or may not be persecuted) while millions of others languish in refugee camps all around the world waiting for an opportunity at resettlement. The only difference is that this country has had a single-minded obsession with Castro for more than three decades, while persecuted people elsewhere had the misfortune to be born in countries with despotic rulers we dislike less.

Almost from the day Fidel Castro swept out of the Sierra Madre Mountains to take control of Cuba, it has been the implicit (and often explicit) goal of the US government to see him overthrown. Countless covert adventures later, Castro is still in power.

As we look at other countries that have overthrown communist or authoritarian governments in recent years, we find that in each case the revolution was sparked from within. With a domestic opposition in place, the forces of democracy were able to pick off, one by one, the rotting regimes of Eastern Europe and Latin America. But instead of an organized opposition in Havana, poised to overthrow the despot, Castro's opposition is comfortably ensconced 90 miles away in Miami. From there they are free to howl about what Fidel has done to their island, and do little else.


With a new mass exodus from Cuba a real possibility, as Castro seeks an outlet for the frustrations now building in Cuba, it is time for the United States to re-evaluate a policy that is, today, little more than a relic of the Cold War. The time has come to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 and end the special privileges afforded to one nationality over all others.

The great ideological contest is over, and we won. Even Fidel Castro understands that by now it's time we did, too.

About the author

Dan Stein is the executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington, DC.

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