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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

It's Time to End the Cuban Adjustment Act

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In a surprise move (at least a surprise to me), President Obama announced that our country would be moving towards normalization of our relationship with Cuba. As part of the deal, the two countries agreed to exchange some political prisoners, and it appears we will be restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and opening an Embassy in Havana.

Evidence that the embargo is working: A dashing Fidel Castro pre-embargo...

During our long Cold War with Cuba, one element of our “special relationship” has been the Cuban Adjustment Act (“CAA”), a law that allows any Cuban who arrives in the United States to obtain residency here. It’s akin to automatic asylum for any Cuban who reaches U.S. shores.

I have written before about my opposition to this law: In short, I believe that Cubans should apply for asylum in the same way as everyone else. It makes no sense to give automatic asylum to Cubans, especially since other countries—Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq to name a few—are much more dangerous than Cuba, and nationals from those countries must apply for asylum in the normal way.

It seems to me that the CAA and our over-all Cuba policy exists because of our government’s decision that this was the best way to isolate the Castro regime and force democratic change on our island neighbor. More specifically, anti-Castro Cubans in Miami pushed our nation’s Cuba policy towards the all-stick, no-carrot approach that—50 years later—has accomplished nothing. Now, it seems attitudes among the Cuban American community have shifted. To be sure, many still oppose normalization, but—so far at least—we have not seen the type of angry, in-the-streets reaction that characterized the Elian Gonzales affair during the Clinton Presidency. Perhaps there is more widespread recognition that the old policy hasn’t worked, and that we need to try something new.

Fidel Castro, visibly aged due to pressure from the embargo.

So now that we are moving towards a new phase in our relationship with Cuba, it makes sense to end the CAA. The situation in Cuba is less dangerous than in many other countries, and so there is no longer any justification for the CAA based on humanitarian reasons (though I believe there really never was a valid justification for the law based on humanitarian reasons). The only logical reason for the CAA was as a propaganda tool against the Castro regime. I doubt this ever really worked (except maybe in the minds of some in the anti-Castro Cuban community), and—given that we are moving towards normalized relations—it certainly makes no sense at all any more.

All of this is not to say that the Cuban regime respects human rights or allows political dissent. It’s clear that the government represses the political opposition, and that it detains and persecutes perceived opponents. But that type of behavior is, unfortunately, all too common in many countries, and it does not justify a blanket asylum for everyone who comes from a country with a poor human rights record. Indeed, it is exactly why we have an asylum system in the first place.

The CAA is inconsistent with our new Cuban policy. When viewed in context of the overall asylum system, it cannot be justified on humanitarian grounds. It’s time to end the CAA and move towards a new relationship with Cuba.

Originally posted on the Asylumist:

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  1. ILWlurker's Avatar
    Congress has already repealed the Cuban Adjustment Act, in the 1996 immigration act. The repeal takes effect when the President certifies that there is a democratic government there.

    But the blog reflects a misunderstanding of the difference between the purpose of the CAA, and how later changes in law have affected it. When it was enacted, no Western Hemisphere natives could obtain adjustment of status. But there was no embassy in Cuba to issue visas, nor could those fleeing the totalitarian dictatorship go back. Hence, the CAA.

    And at the time of enactment, there were no numerical limits on WH immigration. The 120,000 limit under the 1965 Act had not yet taken effect.

    When the limits first took effect in 1968, former INS first decided that Cubans had to be counted against the WH limit. This practice ended in 1976, when DOJ decided the limits did not apply.

    It's an interesting conundrum. One could see an argument that the imposition of limits on the WH should apply to Cubans. After all, the fact that the CAA doesn't set limits just reflects the law at the time of enactment. And then, when the visa preference system and the ability to adjust started applying to the WH natives on 1/1/1977, it would be plausible to say that even for Cubans, there would have to be a visa petition and a current priority date. But since the Executive had already "given" on the numerical limits issue, it would have been difficult for to do so.
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