Buried amid widespread calls that the young migrants fleeing to the southern U.S. border be returned home is a question of fairness with a strong Florida connection: If Cubans who flee their country are welcomed, why aren't those escaping gang violence and drug trafficking?
Sen. Marco Rubio says that's a valid question, even as he thinks that most of the border children should not stay.
"These issues of migration are very difficult because they involve, in many cases, very compelling stories," the Republican son of Cuban immigrants said in an interview with Florida reporters before Congress broke for the August recess. "And that has to be balanced with the right of a sovereign country to control the flow by which people enter. … Of all the issues I've faced in my years in both the Legislature and here, it poses probably the most wrenching humanitarian ones because no matter what you set the number at or what you set the process up as, you know that there are going to be compelling stories that you're not going to be able to address."
Cubans gets privileged status under the decades-old Cuban Adjustment Act. It has caused resentment among other immigrant groups and led to abuses. Some Cubans obtain legal residency in the United States but then travel back and forth to their homeland. And there is a growing trend of Cubans' avoiding the traditional entry via water (under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, those who are apprehended before stepping onto U.S. soil are returned) and going through Mexico.
Reuters recently reported that "more than 13,500 Cubans without the proper papers had tried to cross the southwestern U.S. border since Oct. 1, 2013, more than during all of the previous 12 months. The 12-month total was about 5,500 four years ago." They have a name: dusty-foot Cubans.
Rubio said: "I've never criticized anyone who wants to go back to Cuba to visit a loved one — their mother is dying, their children are there. What I do think is that if you come to this country and say you are in exile, fleeing oppression, and a year and day after you lived here, you travel back to Cuba 20, 30, 40 times a year, it really undermines that argument. And other groups look at that and say, 'They're no different than we are. Why are we treated differently?' That sort of travel puts at risk the status Cubans have, so I've always been open to re-examining that. …"
But Rubio concedes he has no plan. He talked about making changes during last year's immigration debate but did not seek to insert provisions into the sweeping bill he helped write.