Friday, June 10, 2016
Billy Long: Pass the Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act
On the evening of September 11, 2001, President Bush’s address underscored America’s inextinguishable reputation as “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” It is a reputation we cannot take for granted in the face of the millions who live under totalitarian dictatorships and globally displaced refugees seeking life in a free-functioning society.
In that spirit, the federal Refugee Resettlement Program provides upstart funding for some regions’ refugees on a situational basis, which has been the case for incoming Cubans since the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act was signed into law. This bill designated all Cubans who flee to US soil as refugees and provided them permanent residency upon entry and eligibility for welfare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and cash assistance for the elderly and disabled. But, unlike other nations’ refugees, Cubans are always automatically classified as refugees without having to prove persecution as other immigrants would.
Given the international climate of the sixties, lawmakers’ open-door generosity incentivized Cubans’ migration to the US much more than most other refugees could ever hope for. Still today, the majority of non-Cuban migrants can’t collect aid funds during their first five years here while Cubans are having a free-for-all at the expense of hard-working U.S. taxpayers.
This irresponsible group has mistaken these humanitarian incentives for an American tax dollar giveaway – abusing their misplaced “refugee” designations and taking federal aid only to jump back and forth between countries to sell goods to Cubans while they pass benefit cards to unapproved – and often completely ineligible – friends to shop with while they’re away. This fraud costs us more than $680 million dollars annually due to the spiking influx of Cubans entering Florida. For scale, by the end of this year it’s estimated that the Cuban influx will have increased nearly 90 percent since 2004, while multiple agencies approximate this wave required a 23 percent increase in publicly funded living benefits between 2011 and 2014. For a country with a burgeoning 19 trillion dollar debt, this should be a non-starter.
This government benefit program invites fraudsters and, with so many assistance entities and money trails at play for Cuban refugees, this has become a bureaucratic nightmare that will only worsen. However, despite pleas to the Obama administration to tackle the problem, it seems to have been swept aside in lieu of renewing a diplomatic bridge between nations. This unwillingness to rock the boat is yet another reckless policy for legacy-building.
Despite this, I’ve chosen to urge action over wasteful complacency by cosponsoring the “Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act,” which ensures that only proven Cuban “refugees” may benefit from the Refugee Resettlement Program, and demands that the White House enforce laws that ensure ineligible parties can’t use this money. Over ten years, this bill will save taxpayers an estimated $2.45 billion dollars by cracking down on these bad actors’ abuse of our generosity and ensure the long-term sustainability of this program for those Cubans who earnestly need it for life’s basic needs.
In October of last year, Hialeah, Florida, city councilman and Havana native Jose Caragol hit the nail on the head when he told Sun Sentinel reporters Cuban aid funding “was meant to assist those who were persecuted and want a new life. The bleeding has to stop.” Councilman Caragol was right. It’s time that our federal agencies seize some accountability over this taxpayer abuse and for Congress to ‘stop the bleeding’ by passing the “Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act.”