I’ve got my first piece up at Colorlines today, about Cuban-Americans in the US and why our community should be an argument for immigration reform with a path to citizenship.
It’s timed with the DREAM vote which is happening today. It felt like a big deal for me to acknowledge publicly the privilege afforded to my family, and others in the Cuban-American community, through our special immigration status. But also important to point out what that has meant for our community, and why it should be offered to other immigrant groups as well.
Ever since the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, Cubans who have made it the United States have been put on an automatic path to citizenship. Cubans in the U.S. have reaped the benefits of this special status, my family included. My parents came to the U.S. with their families as pre-teens in the first wave of exiles from Cuba. Their respective families had different motivations for coming, but both were fleeing the new Castro government and its intrusion in their lives and their businesses. What for them, as for many who came over in the original wave, was meant to be a temporary visit until Castro was defeated, has become a multi-generation resettlement. I was born here, along with some other 652,000 Cuban-Americans, all of us with the advantage of parents who have been able to work and live legally since day one. It’s virtually impossible to be an undocumented Cuban in the United States.
In today’s immigration climate, and particularly during the debate happening right now on the DREAM Act, it’s hard to imagine legislation as generous as our long-standing policy toward Cubans in the United States. Conservatives have tried to paint the DREAM Act as some sort of amnesty. In reality, the DREAM Act is an extremely narrow piece of legislation offering a select group of youth a long and challenging path to citizenship. When compared to the policy that allowed my parents to come to the U.S., it looks positively draconian.
The DREAM Act includes a path to citizenship, but the current version also includes a 10-year probationary period and required military service or college attendance. In the most recent iteration of the bill, it also prohibits DREAMers from accessing health care benefits during that time. Cubans had (and have) none of these restrictions, and are able to become legal permanent residents within one year of being in the U.S. and citizens five years later.
U.S. immigration policy toward Cubans has been an extremely good thing for the Cuban-American community and should be a model for immigration policy toward other immigrant groups as well.
Read the rest at Colorlines.