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No Crocodile Tears for Cubans ‘Left Behind’ by Obama’s Immigration Change

Posted on Jan 28, 2017

By Karen Lee Wald

Charlie Jackson / CC-BY-2.0

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Recently, The New York Times—in agreement with much other U.S. media and many politicians—published a long, teary article by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Frances Robles about the sufferings of a Cuban dental assistant who had endured great hardships as she passed through numerous South and Central American countries to get to the United States—only to arrive too late: Outgoing President Obama had just cut off the uniquely Cuban privilege of being allowed to enter the U.S. without a visa—and stay, with benefits.

It would be nice if the Times and other U.S. media showed the same awareness, sympathy and concern for the Mexicans, Haitians, Central Americans and others who land on U.S. shores “after arduous journeys,” who are regularly detained and deported, regardless of how extreme their situation in their home countries may be. Not to mention the many children who’ve wound up in prison-like detention centers or separated indefinitely from their families. In reaction to Trump’s draconian measures against other immigrants and would-be immigrants, the Latin American Working Group (LAWG) decried Donald Trump’s pursuit of building walls and shoring up border patrol as being cruel and inhuman, when:

“... in our own backyard, hundreds of thousands of children, women, and men are being forced to flee their homes due to horrific levels of violence, corruption, impunity, and poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.”

There is an undeniable reality: If the Cuban dental assistant who spent weeks hiking through the Amazon had been Brazilian, this New York Times story wouldn’t even have been written.

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To understand this, we have to look at what immigration lawyers and those providing refugee assistance refer to as “push” vs. “pull” immigration.

The whole reason Cubans arriving in the U.S. have been the unique exception to the law requiring would-be immigrants to have visas is the politically-inspired assumption that they were all classic examples of “push” type immigration— that they all desperately needed to escape the horrors of “the Castro regime.”

What horrors was the Times’ prototypical dental assistant fleeing? Davis and Robles mention “communism” and “extreme poverty.” Yet the Cuban woman could have escaped communism in any of the countries she passed through—and was unmotivated to remain in. One could argue that there is poverty—sometimes extreme poverty—in some of those countries, but then—why isn’t the U.S. government offering the same free entry plus benefits to the citizens of those countries?

If we’re talking about relative poverty, it’s worth noting that after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Cubans working on medical missions in Haiti described the pain of finding Haitians living in holes excavated beneath the ruins of their former shacks. People who, were it not for the Cuban and other internationalist medical workers, would have little hope of receiving medical care, or of being treated in a dental clinic, let alone receiving the training to work in one.

So let’s be frank: the poverty in Cuba can hardly be described as extreme (the dental assistant had a home to sell, after all, as well as her job). And while “living under communism” (Cuba didn’t claim this by the way; it claims only to be attempting to “build socialism”) may seem awful enough to some that it’s worth fleeing from, there have been and are far worse political systems in the world that the U.S. government didn’t bat an eyelash at—Pinochet’s Chile, Papa Doc Duvalier’s Haiti, Argentina during the “Dirty War” in the recent past, Saudi Arabia or Honduras in the present come to mind—much less offer free haven to their citizens/victims.

In contrast, Cuba’s political system tries to provide the best it can to everyone, despite massive economic difficulties, exacerbated for the last 50-plus years by economic warfare referred to as an “embargo” in Washington and as “the blockade” in Cuba. One of the main ongoing features of this system, in bad times as well as good, is its solidarity with the truly disadvantaged at home and abroad. The dental assistant may not have had as much food on her plate as she would have liked, but her plate was never empty. She just didn’t like having to share it.

“Push” Versus “Pull”

It wasn’t the risk of extreme mistreatment that drove the Cuban dental assistant out of her country (what immigration attorneys refer to as “push” migration) but rather the lure (often, but not always false) of what her hoped-for home in Miami had to offer her (“pull” migration).

“Push” migration is defined by an escape from life-threatening dangers, including war, drought, extreme hunger, genocide (ethnic, national, gender or racial) or extreme situations for women such as being sold as child brides or subject to genital mutilation. Push migration means that those escaping would be happy to settle anywhere, provided that those conditions could be avoided.

“Pull” migration is the opposite: those leaving their home countries want to go to one particular place, a place that they see as offering wonderful advantages. The “Land of Milk and Honey,” where the streets are paved with gold. In the minds of many throughout the world, that is the USA.

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