The Part That I Don’t Get About ‘Illegal’ (Part 1)

Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015. (Credit: Mstyslav Chernov / Wikimedia Commons)

Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015. (Credit: Mstyslav Chernov / Wikimedia Commons)

Down here in Arizona opponents of “illegal” immigration (they are really opponents of all immigration, whether “illegal” or perfectly legal) are fond of putting an end to all discussion about the subject with the following question: “What part of ‘illegal’ don’t you get?” That settles the issue in their mind. Period. End of story. I have never had an opportunity to answer because the question has never been put to me directly. Mostly, I suspect, because such people think that my immigration status is shady at best and flagrantly illegal at worst. No one ever likes to mention the rope in the hanged man’s house.

But now our clown dynasty (I use the term coined by H.L. Mencken to refer to US politicians) has voted in the House of Representatives that it does not want to accept Syrian refugees, and several Republican presidential candidates are advocating the surveillance of Mosques and the government registry of Muslims (including American citizens who are Muslims). I take the liberty of answering, and explaining my answer, to this preposterous question for all readers of our blog.

The part that I don’t get about “illegal” is how come I’m not?!

Immigrants arriving in New York from Ellis Island, 1913. (Credit: National Library of France)

Immigrants arriving in New York from Ellis Island, 1913. (Credit: National Library of France)

I confess that I came to this country with my mother and sister at the age of 7 years old as a political refugee under a visa waiver (we had heard of the term decades before the Paris attack last week). The US and its people received us with open arms—just as it had received my father before us. This in spite of the fact—please note!—that at the time my country of origin (Cuba) was considered a terrorist nation, and that it was preparing, with the aid of the Soviet Union, to arm a nuclear arsenal against the United States.

I became a permanent resident after my father, who stood with his adopted country in its war against Communism, served with ITT as a contractor for the US Navy in Vietnam for 1-½ years. I became a naturalized US citizen on the day of my birthday in 1973, with the hope of taking the federal exam and qualifying for a First Class FCC License, with which I hoped to pay for my graduate education. On that day my father, who was not a religious man, commented: “You are born again today.”

I have traversed the long journey from exile to US citizen without suffering the rhetoric or being subjected to the proposed abuse our politicians intend to unleash on present day “illegal” immigrants, in fact on all immigrants—except Cubans like myself.

Bear with me as I try to explain the “Wet Feet, Dry Feet” (1995) policy of the US government, presently in effect, which is kept under wraps by the Republican segment of our clown dynasty as one of the shadiest little secrets of our national immigration laws.

According to the generous terms of this policy, any Cuban attempting to flee Cuba who is caught by the US Coast Guard or Border Patrol outside of the legal boundaries of the United States (say out on the Gulf or the Atlantic Ocean, or on Mexican territory), is immediately repatriated to Cuba or sent to a different country. But any Cuban, who manages to land within US territory, is summarily given asylum and granted legal status.

Please observe that this “Cuban” immigration policy has been in effect since 1995, when it was negotiated by the Clinton administration to stem the flow of Cuban refugees on the high seas. It is a more restrictive, more draconian policy than that which existed since the Castro regime took over Cuba and the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.

I have often heard one piece of advice told—not always in jest—by exiles to Cubans who live in the island and want to escape: go as a tourist to Mexico, join a group of mojados crossing the Rio Grande, and when the Border Patrol arrests you, just raise your hands and yell: “I’m Cuban!”

(to be continued)

OG

USS Whibdey Island with 2000 Cubans picked up at sea, August 1994. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

USS Whibdey Island with 2000 Cubans picked up at sea, August 1994. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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