The Republican’s Cuban Conundrum

President Obama ended exception for Cubans immigrants. How will GOP reconcile its immigration politics – now that a noticeable part of its base is affected?

On Thursday, President Barack Obama announced that he will end the visa exemption for Cuban immigrants.

In a statement, President Obama writes:

Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities. By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.

This decision was a part of ongoing efforts to normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Established in the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, the “wet foot, dry land” policy allowed Cuban immigrants and their families who made it to American soil to stay and become a U.S. resident without a visa. Earlier this week, deputy director of the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute Marc Rosenblum said Cubans immigrants are “assumed to be refugees”, which is a immigration policy posture that America does not currently give to immigrants from any other country. Some see the policy as a “relic of the Cold-War”, one that gave Cuban immigrants a special status that is growing harder to justify.

The political effect this news will have is to be determined (Democrats and progressives will be in a bind on whether or not to publicly support or criticize this decision), but it is clear that Republicans will have to wrestle with the large conundrum it presents.

With President-elect Donald Trump’s promises to “build a wall” and close borders being central to his presidential campaign, Republicans will garner much attention on how they and their base reacts– specifically Cuban Americans who vote Republican. About half of Cubans in Florida voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, a high percentage for any Latino group in America.

Republicans public fervency surrounding immigration reform that includes mass deportation didn’t apply or affect Cuban Americans to the extent it does other immigrant groups. So after Obama’s decision, how do Republicans react now that an increased part of their base are the “illegal immigrants” (to use their terminology) they seek to deport?

U.S farmers and agricultural trade groups are imploring Trump to continue the progress President Obama has made, while conservative news sites are calling Obama’s move “revenge” for Cuban Americans being (disproportionately to other minority groups) Republican and voting for Donald Trump (which would be a stark irony, since many conservatives frame “illegal immigrants” as potential Democratic voters).

This begs the question, is this push back rooted more in humanitarianism, or partisanship?

Republicans will either have to support President Obama’s decision and absorb the pushback from their base, or, essentially, make the case why Cubans deserve to stay while other immigrant groups from Mexico, Central and South America, other parts of the Caribbean and the world should be deported. But either way, a sizeable part of their party will voice major objections.

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