By Joe Guzzardi
December 23, 2014
President Obama’s announcement that he’s taken preliminary steps toward normalizing the U.S. relationship with Cuba set off mostly positive media coverage. Obama states that his goal is to bring personal and economic freedom to Cubans by lifting the U.S. trade embargo.
The Wall Street Journal points out, however, that one of the first hurdles, and a considerable one, may be settling nearly $7 billion in claims by major U.S. corporations that include Coca-Cola, Exxon-Mobil, and Colgate-Palmolive to recover property, plants and equipment Fidel Castro seized after his government took power in 1959. And in Congress, Obama faces strong headwinds against liberalizing U.S. policy with Cuba. Congress controls travel, trade and tourism with Cuba. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he agrees with Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla), the son of Cuban immigrants, that Obama’s statement is the latest in the administration’s “concession to tyranny.”
So far, no one has analyzed what the effects of immigration and population growth might be if travel limitations are lifted and Cubans could come to the U.S. freely.
The first matter of congressional business would be to end the infamous “wet foot, dry foot” created in 1995 under the Clinton administration when it revised the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.
Under that agreement, a Cuban intercepted on the ocean (“wet foot”) en route to the U.S. would be returned or sent to a third country. On the other hand, a Cuban who makes it to shore (“dry foot”) could remain in the U.S. and would qualify for expedited legal permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
Consider today’s conditions. State-controlled Cuba’s population is 11 million, and the average salary is $20 a month. Cuba is poor; America is rich, and serves as a beacon to repressed Cubans. According to the Census Bureau, the U.S is already home to nearly 2 million Cuban- Americans. Presumably, many Cubans would come to join their relatives. Those on the island who don’t have family ties would, assuming they’re physically able, also make the journey. Many would be elderly and, with legal status granted to them, qualify for medical entitlements and other benefits. The younger among them would receive work authorization.
The 1980 Mariel Boatlift provides a preview of what might happen if Obama prevails and the administration doesn’t tighten immigration laws. Between April and October 1980, with the approval of Castro and the Carter White House, about 125,000 Cuban nationals landed in Florida. In short order, U.S. officials learned that the refugees included hardened criminals, and that Castro had purposely released his most undesirable to the U.S. to gain a measure of revenge against the American government. Miami’s labor pool experienced an immediate 7 percent increase in available workers, and between April and July, 1980 unemployment rose from 5.0 percent to 7.1 percent.
As for future population growth, a little simple math tells the story. Assume each of the two million Cuban-Americans sponsors two relatives, a conservative estimate. They would add 4 million people, and bring the total to six million Cubans or first generation Cuban Americans living in the U.S. Those six million represent more than half of Cuba’s 11 million current population.
Many Cubans have compelling personal stories. Some would legitimately qualify as refugees. But the Department of Homeland Security needs to carry out rigorous background checks, something the Obama administration has shown little inclination to do, to guarantee that newly arrived Cubans are worthy of permanent legal status and that their presence would not displace American workers.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]