Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Pulling Up the Ladder

From the New York Times:

Waving American flags and blue banners that read “We Are America,” throngs of cheering, chanting immigrants and their supporters converged on the nation’s capital and in scores of other cities on Monday calling on Congress to offer legal status and citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants.

The rallies, whose mood was largely festive rather than angry, were the latest in recent weeks in response to a bill passed in the House that would speed up deportations, tighten border security and criminalize illegal immigrants. A proposal that would have given most illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens collapsed in the Senate last week.

Ironically, here in Miami the response to the immigration discussion has been muted if not ignored. According to the Miami Herald,

There is no single reason, observers say. It’s partly the nature of Miami’s unique immigrant environment: heavy on Cubans, Jamaicans and Haitians, and short on Mexicans, who make up the vast majority of legal and undocumented immigrants in the country and who have been at the forefront of marches in other cities.

There’s also a sense from some immigrant advocates that helping the undocumented legalize their status is not a fight that South Florida’s powerful Cuban American community embraces.


While Miami is relatively welcoming to immigrants — the surprise raids on illegal immigrants that occur often in cities like Los Angeles and San Diego are not as frequent here — some feel there is a class divide among immigrants.

“The more affluent people, or the ones who have legal status, may not be likely to identify with this issue,” said Elizabeth M. Aranda, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Miami. “Some don’t want to acknowledge that the opportunity here may not be equal and open to all.”

Unlike any other immigrant group, Cubans can stay in the United States if they make it to land under the controversial “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy. The Cuban Adjustment Act allows them to apply for a green card and eventual citizenship.

In other words, the Cubans get special consideration; if you make it to America, be it by raft, boat, or business class on Air Jamaica, you can stay without fear of deportation. It does not apply to any other nationality, and there is an undercurrent among some Cubans that I have talked to that they jealously guard their status; they do not want to see such a policy applied to anyone else. The reasons aren’t exactly clear, but the sense is that adding others — Mexicans, Central Americans, and other nations of the Caribbean — would dilute the Cubans’ power in the political arena and would overwhelm their community with undocumented immigrants who would drain resources, overcrowd the schools, and change the way of life here in South Florida. Having lived in Miami at two different times in its history — the first in the early 1970’s when it was still a relatively small Southern city and the Cuban population consisted mostly of landed well-off immigrants who had fled in the first days of Castro’s reign (and who were packed and ready to go back at any moment), and then returning thirty years later to find it one of the most immigrant-filled big cities in America, the irony of such concerns about the influx of new immigrants is, well, ironic.