Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rubio and immigration reform

The thing that drove me crazy about Marco Rubio was how he was always portrayed as the right's guy who could deliver immigration reform. He was portrayed that way because he is Hispanic, and immigration reform is viewed as a major issue with Hispanics. That's because a large proportion of the recent immigrants (legal or not) in this country are Mexican, which is the nationality of most Hispanics in this country.

But Rubio isn't Mexican, he is Cuban. And Cubans are a weird category under U.S. immigration law. Thanks to the cold war and our long-standing pissing match with Castro, Cubans are treated differently than everyone else in the world. If a Cuban makes it to the U.S., he or she can legally stay here under the "wet feet, dry feet" policy. It doesn't matter whether that person applied to enter the U.S. through the regular visa process, snuck in without a visa, or even has a passport. Cubans can only be illegal immigrants before they reach U.S. soil (when they are still "wet feet"). Once they set foot here, they become legal, in what amounts to a de facto automatic amnesty program.

The regular immigration rules simply don't apply to Cubans. No one else in the world gets such a good deal. If a British citizen showed up in Miami without his passport, he gets deported. If a Cuban does the same thing, he can stay, apply to be a permanent resident, and eventually citizen. Cubans are not part of the illegal immigrant community because there really aren't Cuban illegal immigrants. That means that the Cuban-American community is not directly impacted at all by the fucked-upedness of the current American immigration system. They are not clamoring for reform because they are already receiving the benefits of a reformed system that applies only to them.

While I think that any American should be able to advocate for immigration reform, including Cuban-Americans. But having a Cuban background does not give you any special insight into the plight of immigrants under the current system. On the contrary, it's the background that is likely to give you the least insight on that issue. Underlying the Rubio-immigration reform association is an unfounded assumption that all Hispanics are essentially the same. Rubio may have been interested in immigration issues on their own merits. But his ethnic background and community is not a reason to credit him with any leg up on the issue.