WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio told a gathering of newspaper editors Tuesday that he thinks a 47-year-old law that gives Cubans fast-track status to permanent U.S. residence should be "re-examined."
But the immigration bill Rubio helped write and that likely will be passed this week by the Senate contains no provisions addressing the Cuban Adjustment Act.
"It just hasn't come up in this conversation and the plethora of all the other issues that we're facing," Rubio recently told the Tampa Bay Times.
The issue resurfaced Tuesday during a question-and-answer session with the American Society of News Editors. Rubio said he had issues with the way some Cubans are abusing the system.
"I don't criticize anyone who wants to go visit their mom or dad or their dying brother or sister in Cuba," he said. "But I am telling you it gets very difficult to justify someone's status as an exile and refugee when a year and a half after they get here they are flying back to that country over and over again."
More than 1 million Cubans have received U.S. residency since the law was enacted in 1966. But in recent years, it has come under increasing scrutiny over questions of whether Cubans are leaving for economic reasons rather than political.
Immigrant-rights groups say it unfairly grants special status to Cubans, who get access to federal benefits the immigration overhaul would deny to millions of others. Meanwhile, changes in the United States and Cuba have made it easier for people to travel.
In January, as the immigration issue heated up, Rubio told reporters, "I'm not sure we're going to be able to avoid, as part of any comprehensive approach to immigration, a conversation about the Cuban Adjustment Act."
He said Tuesday, however, that he does not have any specific changes in mind. "It's something I need to study more carefully."
Two other Cuban Florida Republicans, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, have also called for changes to the law.
"The Cuban community (in the U.S.) is divided," said Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Some have family they'd like to connect with while others say the law strips any motivation for people to stay in Cuba and challenge the government.
Suchlicki thinks the special status should end but understands why there hasn't been any real effort to make changes under the immigration bill: "There's enough controversial stuff in the bill already."