This is one of a series of reports and discussion on National Public Radio's
"Latino USA" program on the "day without an immigrant" protests of May 1, 2006.
Read additional comments on Cubans and immigration to the United States, please
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Latino USA COMMENTARY
Author Tom Miller comments on how organizers of the immigration protests are unknowingly asking to be treated like Cubans who manage to reach the U.S.
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Through all the chanting, banners and slogans, one element is missing – there’s no national leader to give the immigrant rights movement the historical, moral, and intellectual heft it needs. Someone may well emerge, but until then it’s city by city, barrio by barrio, and deejay by deejay. Meanwhile, the desire remains -- even in the absence of a leader -- to gain legitimacy, to be on the citizenship track.
That’s been the main concern the millions who have taken to the streets in recent weeks.
They don’t know it, but what they really want – is to be treated like Cubans. Yes, the multitudes of Mexicans, Central Americans, immigrants from Asia and elsewhere all want to be like Cubans.
No no no, I don’t mean they want to drink mojitos, speak jazzy Spanish, or dance sensually. I mean they want the same immigration rights. If you are from Mexico or Jamaica or just about any country in the Americas and you step foot on U.S. soil without your papers in order, you are liable for detention and deportation, maybe that day, maybe a week later, maybe five years later. But if you’re Cuban and arrive illegally, even brought in by a professional smuggler, you are rewarded with a fast-track to residency and citizenship. You can go to work right away for your tia in Hialeah or your cousin in Union City.
Even better for Cubans, if they’re already in Mexico they don’t need to wade the Rio Grande or walk the Sonorant Desert -- they can simply stroll up to any port of entry along the two-thousand mile border and say to the U.S. immigration inspector, Soy cubana. ¿me permite entrar?” I’m Cuban, mind if I come in? And the answer is almost always, “come on in!”
Sounds like something congress just quietly slipped by us, doesn’t it. But it wasn’t so recent, and at the time it wasn’t so quiet, either. This law goes back four decades to the Lyndon Johnson years in 1966, when Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and José Lezama Lima’s “Paraíso” came out, the year that gave us “Eleanor Rigby” and the Black Panther Party. That long ago.
It was called “The Cuban Adjustment Act,” and with some tinkering here and there, the law has been in force ever since. It simply says that Cubans who get to the U.S. are paroled in, and if they keep their nose clean for a year, they can stand in line for a green card and eventual citizenship.
If all immigration, no matter where from or to, results from push and pull factors, this is a powerful pull factor. Castro calls it “the murderous Cuban adjustment act” because it tempts people to risk their lives rafting the dangerous Straits of Florida.
The law was initially passed seven years after Castro took power to make it easy for political refugees from communism to find shelter in our bosom, and it’s remained a political fútbol ever since.
In fact, the “Cuban Adjustment Act” stays in force until there is a democratic government in Cuba. That’s what the law says. Heck, in the one-hundred-eight years since it broke free of Spain, Cuba has only had about six years of democracy as we know it.
The million-plus who have taken to the streets in the last month seek the same rights Cubans have. If they want fast-track legalization, they should simply demand expansion of “The Cuban Adjustment Act” and turn it into the Immigrant Adjustment Act. Now, if all immigrants were treated like Cubans, that would level the playing field.
Commentator Tom Miller’s many books include On the Border: Portraits of America’s Southwestern Frontier, and Trading With the Enemy: a Yankee Travels through Castro’s Cuba. His web site is www.tommillerbooks.com.
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