TEXAS VIEW: Fair rights for immigrantsTHE POINT — U.S. is ending unfair Cuban immigration policy, finally.

Ever since U.S. relations with Cuba appear to have normalized in the past year — air travel has opened, trade restrictions were lifted, and President Barack Obama visited the island nation — The Monitor’s editorial board has called for the lifting of a unique refugee policy that has been in place for Cubans, but not offered to other immigrants who are seeking asylum.
Commonly referred to as “the wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, Cubans who cross onto U.S. land have for the past 22 years been immediately put on a path to citizenship and eligible for U.S. assistance programs. They are granted asylum, living benefits and preferential treatment over that of immigrants from other nations, including those from Mexico and Central and South America.
Cubans who are apprehended at sea, however, have been and can be turned back. Because of this policy we have seen a tremendous uptick in Cuban immigrants crossing through South Texas from our land border with Mexico — over 68,000 of them since 2014.
So we applaud President Obama’s announcement this month that such policies will be ending immediately.
As we have written, granting asylum to Cubans who were fleeing persecution and other atrocities was the right thing to do at one time and it served its purpose, but we believe those Cold War days are over. Our relations with Cuba are on the mend and seem ever brighter.
It’s time, rather, to consider what policies can be done for today’s other refugees — mainly those from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, who are fleeing gangs, drug cartels and dangerous conditions at an unprecedented rate. Most cross into South Texas, making our border the epicenter of immigration since 2014, and proof of our country’s need for complete and current immigration reform policies.
As U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, the leading congressional advocate for changing the special law for Cubans, said after the Jan. 12 announcement: “Ending this outdated policy is something I’ve been calling on the administration to do and have been working on with my colleagues in Congress. The Obama administration and Cuban government have come to an agreement allowing for repatriation and expedited removal of Cuban nationals who arrive at our ports of entry. This is an important step forward in modernizing our outdated immigration policies towards Cuba. The wet-foot, dry-foot policy provided Cubans an unprecedented special immigration status that no other group of people possessed.”
Indeed there will be some who challenge the need to end such a policy, which has been in place since 1995 under President Bill Clinton at the behest of the Cuban government, which amended the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 to stop admitting Cubans intercepted in U.S. waters.
So we say let them each come forward before a U.S. immigration judge with their individual cases and reasons for fleeing their country and seeking a new, permanent life in America, just as immigrants from all Central and South American countries and Mexico must do. And if there is cause for them to stay, then let that be so decided by our judicial system.
But to give a blanket pass to an entire immigrant society from just one country while others are turned back, detained for up to months at a time, or forced to pay high court and lawyer fees to stay in this country, is not fair. In addition, Obama’s administration has rescinded the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, in place since 2006, which allowed Cuban medical personnel conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Cuban government to enter the United States.
As President Obama said: These are “important steps forward to normalize relations with Cuba and to bring greater consistency to our immigration policy. … (Cubans) will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.”
Equality and a chance at the American dream must be consistent for all. We must allow the system to be applied evenly. And we must continue to enforce our laws and our priorities, such as the removal of all and any who threaten our society and those with criminal backgrounds.
Expedited removal procedures must be allowed on all who threaten our safety. Unfortunately, however, this has not been the case for Cuban nationals.
We applaud the Obama administration for taking the necessary steps to level the immigration field. And we note that one important policy, the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program was not rescinded or changed.
Under this program, Cuban beneficiaries of certain approved family-sponsored immigrant visa petitions are allowed to travel to the United States to be unified with their family members before their immigrant visas become available, rather than remaining in Cuba while they await a visa.
We suggest that perhaps such policies could also be considered for those Central and South American and Mexican families who are separated by thousands of miles as they too await reunification. And we suggest that Congress look into implementing similar steps to help reunite other families. We also note that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said these changes were a result of agreements reached between the United States and Cuban governments.
“The government of Cuba has agreed to begin to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed. Cuba and the United States will work to further discourage unlawful migration to the United States and promote bilateral cooperation to prevent and prosecute alien smuggling and other crimes related to illegal migration,” Johnson said.
This should encourage other nations to work with the United States and to do their part to discourage human trafficking and illegal immigration knowing that it could help to increase trade and other relations between our nations and ultimately help to bring U.S. resources and funds to help stimulate their homelands, rather than encourage their citizens from leaving.