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Cuban Americans are divided on immigration policy

Cuban Americans are divided on immigration policy
Cindy Carcamo

To her family, Ada Caso is known as la comunista — the communist. And in
a Cuban American family, that’s as bad as it gets. Though the label is
mostly tongue-in-cheek, her liberal political bent makes her an outlier
in her mostly conservative family.

“I’ve always been the black sheep in my family,” she said.

Caso, 53, of Long Beach favors Democratic presidential candidate Bernie
Sanders, a self-described socialist. Most of her family members back
Marco Rubio. Some may vote for Donald Trump if he becomes the GOP nominee.

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This year, immigration is particularly personal for some members of the
Caso family and the Cuban American community, especially since two Cuban
American presidential candidates — Rubio and Ted Cruz — have tried to
outdo each other by taking an increasingly harder line on immigration.

Rubio, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. before Fidel Castro took
power in 1959, has told reporters that he’s open to curtailing the “wet
foot, dry foot” policy, although he hasn’t given specifics. Cruz, whose
father also immigrated before Castro, favors leaving the policy unchanged.

That policy, authorized under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, allows
Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil to file an asylum claim and qualify for
government assistance, legal status and, eventually, U.S. citizenship.

It has drawn criticism from other Latin Americans because it grants
special privileges only to Cubans. Some Cuban Americans have also called
for the provision to be revoked, saying its original purpose — to help
political refugees — has been overtaken by Cubans coming to the U.S. for
economic reasons.

Both candidates have taken an aggressive stance against illegal
immigration, adopting an enforcement-first approach. Both have also said
they want to restrict the number of refugees from Syria and other Middle
Eastern countries.

Caso is torn about whether the special privilege for Cubans should
remain. Though she’s happy to see Cubans have the chance to improve
their lives in the United States, she believes others should be afforded
the same opportunity.

But she has harsh words for the two candidates’ overall stance on
immigration.

“I think they are hypocritical,” she said. “I think they don’t remember
where they came from.”

Though Caso’s views put her far to the left of most of her relatives,
many in Southern California’s Cuban American community tend to be less
conservative than their counterparts in South Florida.

At an estimated 41,000, the Cuban American community in Los Angeles
County is dwarfed by the more than 3.5 million people of Mexican descent
— a group that is often the target of anti-illegal immigration sentiment.

I think they are hypocritical. I think they don’t remember where they
came from.
— Ada Caso, on Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio

The Caso family’s fractured politics may seem counter to the
long-standing perception that the Cuban American community is
overwhelmingly conservative. In reality, a diverse political dynamic is
increasingly becoming the norm.

Geography, a generational divide, continuous waves of Cuban migration
and the passage of time are changing the political landscape of the
Cuban American community in Southern California and nationwide,
observers say.

“It’s never been a static thing … the Cuban American community,” said
Ruben G. Rumbaut, a professor at UC Irvine who has studied the Cuban
diaspora for about 50 years. “It’s always changing.”

Caso’s cousin Sheila Suarez ended up in California after her family
migrated to the U.S. before Castro took power. Suarez calls herself a
“flower child” who attended UC Berkeley in the 1960s.

The 65-year-old, who lives in La Crescenta, is also a Sanders supporter.

“He reminds me of all of our hopes in the 1960s, of transforming this
country… of ending racism, income equality, all of that stuff,” Suarez said.

Her uncle, Orlando Caso — who fled the Cuban government in 1968 after
his home and business were taken away — said Sanders reminds him of a
young Castro.

“She’s crazy,” he said about his daughter Ada’s support of the Vermont
senator. The elder Caso, 79, of North Hollywood backs Rubio but plans to
skip November’s election if Trump wins the Republican nomination.

Suarez is not a Castro supporter but calls the embargo foolish. The
blockade, initiated in 1961, at first banned all exports from the U.S.
to Cuba except for medicine and some food. It was later expanded to
include imports and became permanent. Only an act of Congress can lift
the sanctions.

She favors President Obama’s move to normalize relations between the
U.S. and Cuba, which she has visited several times since her family left.

Like Suarez, those who left as children or who are second- or
third-generation Americans are likely to be less connected to the island
and its politics, Rumbaut said.

Although the original exiles from the late 1950s and early ’60s weren’t
homogenous in their politics, they were generally conservative.

“Those who left as adults from Cuba, especially those who left for
political reasons, arguably made the most consequential decision of
their lives. It was an act of self-definition like no other and you
don’t change your attitude 10 years later or 30 years later. You don’t
say, ‘Let bygones be bygones and everything will be fine,'” Rumbaut said.

Younger Cubans are more liberal and tend to be more Democratic than
their elders, and their views on relations with Cuba and immigration
also differ, according to a 2014 Florida International University poll.

Hugo J. Byrne, who left Cuba in 1961, said the 1966 law was necessary
for his group of émigrés because they were fleeing political
persecution. Economic migration is another matter, he said.

“As a country, you need to have borders. You need to have laws.
Otherwise there would be chaos,” said Byrne, a Pasadena resident.

Said his wife, Migdalia Mena-Byrne: “We were fleeing terror in my time.
They killed our friends just because they did not agree with the
government. We came as refugees.” The new Cuban arrivals are different
and shouldn’t be given legal status, she said.

“They are no longer refugees. They come because of poverty,” she said.

Both believe the 1966 law should be repealed because it was intended to
protect dissidents and those who were politically persecuted, not
economic migrants.

Ada Caso disagrees.

“It shouldn’t matter. Everyone has the right to make a life for their
family whether they fled for political or economic reasons,” she said.
“I think that’s what all immigrants want.”

cindy.carcamo@latimes.com

Twitter: @thecindycarcamo

Source: Cuban Americans are divided on immigration policy and
presidential candidates – LA Times –
www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-socal-cuban-americans-20160314-story.html

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