Doing the U.S. immigration two-step

About a year before President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. would seek to reestablish diplomatic relations Cuba, one of my cousins still in the island began lobbying me to help his daughter Odette and her three kids get out of the socialist island paradise. The more pronto the better.

My cousin, also named Alfredo, and I hadn’t seen each other for about fifty years when Stew and I visited him in Cuba in 2012. I had never met his daughter or her kids either. We two Alfredos were never particularly close but his apparent desperation to get his family out of Cuba has rekindled our familial ties.
One of my cousin’s granddaughters, and potential beneficiary of the
1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.
Initially Alfredo and his daughter proposed an “Escape from Planet Fidel” novella starring me as as an “employer” who would offer Odette a “job” at our Rancho Santa Clara, so she could get a phony work visa from Mexico and from there enter the U.S. through the Texas border. I scotched that script right off: I was in Mexico on a temporary resident visa and could not get mixed up in some immigration flimflammery.
The cornerstone of this drama—and a revised version now in rehearsal—is the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act which grants political asylum, permanent residence a year later—and the chance to apply for U.S. citizenship five years after that—to virtually any Cuban who physically touches American soil.
It’s ironic, or perhaps cynical, that even as U.S. conservatives rail against blanket amnesty for undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans already in the U.S. or coming over the border, blanket amnesty is in effect what the 1966 law grants Cubans. The historically solid popularity of the Republican Party among Cuban-American voters in Florida, hmm, may have something to do with the double standard. 

The thin logic behind the law is that Cubans are political refugees fleeing Communist oppression while Mexicans, Guatemalans and Hondurans are economic refugees fleeing poverty. The political refugee argument may have had some merit at the height of the Cold War, but any more most Cuban arrivals seek a better economic future as much as freedom of expression.

And who can blame them: My cousin Alfredo is a pathologist at a big hospital in the southern town of Cienfuegos who makes the equivalent of $30 dollars a month.

Indeed, Hondurans trying to escape drug gangs and the reign of terror in Tegucigalpa nowadays probably have a more credible claim to political asylum than most of the Cubans.

The unfairness of the policy, however, has started to irk even the Cubans in Florida because newcomers increasingly are turning out to be criminals, Medicaid scammers, money smugglers and other riff-raff  who can be arrested and jailed but not deported because, hey, Cuba doesn’t want them back.

Some of the new arrivals also go back and forth to Cuba bringing merchandise for sale on the black market in the land of their former persecution. This boondoggle has to be one of many giggles Fidel has had at Uncle Sam’s expense.

The unjustness of the law is particularly blatant to me because of the many undocumented immigrants I met in Chicago, many of them now good friends, who must sleep with one eye open for fear of deportation. I have also witnessed a sorry caravan of desperate Central Americans wending its way through San Miguel on the way to the U.S. border where, unlike the Cubans, most will be turned back. 
Bicycle driver in Havana: Political or economic refugee?
Meanwhile, my second cousin Odette continues to revise an updated plot for getting herself and her three daughters out of Cuba. It turns out that her husband—news to me—made his way to Austin, Texas a year ago, entering through El Paso. In typical immigrant style, Julio is double-jobbing his butt off in construction during the day and at a restaurant at night, to save enough money to bring his family through Mexico.
Odette already came to Mexico on a work visa about a month ago via Cancún, where she stayed for ten days, thus establishing residence here that would allow her to bring her daughters along on the next trip. From what I hear, the paperwork is being handled by an immigration fixer in Cancún, though in contrast to smugglers of illegal migrants, called coyotes or polleros, her machinations appear to be legitimate.
Odette’s fixer, though, wants $6,000 dollars for his work,  half of which is supposed to come from me in the form of a loan. Though I’ve spoken with her and Julio on the phone, I know them only slightly so the collateral is pure faith.
After some hesitation, I agreed to the loan, with some encouragement from Stew, who reminded me of the many people who helped me when I came to the U.S. as a frightened fourteen-year-old. Now it was my turn to return the favor, he said. 
Big-hearted guy that Stew, that’s why I like him so much.
So we are waiting for the next episode to play out sometime in June, when Odette and her three girls will arrive in Mexico City, where we’ll meet them, put them in a hotel overnight and then on a bus to Nuevo Laredo.

Meanwhile, Stew and I will drive up to the border and regroup with Odette and the girls. Then we’ll cross the U.S. border together where they will claim political asylum, a process that’s supposed to take a couple of hours. Or at least that’s the plan. 

After a year apart, no doubt it will be a tearful reunion between Julio, Odette and the three girls. I will be there with a camera to record the memorable event.

At that moment I doubt I’ll be thinking about the unfairness of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.

Parting shot: This socialist dachshund in
Havana was trained  to growl if someone
 waved a (fake) dollar bill in front of his nose,
 yip if you showed him a Cuban peso.   

2 thoughts on “Doing the U.S. immigration two-step

  1. Wow! Who knew? I'm proud and fearful of your plans. I'd like to talk with you in private about this at some point to share some confidential information……….about the crossing.


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