Whether the Biden administration likes it or not, the bipartisan Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 allows Cuban immigrants paroled into the country by immigration authorities to apply for green cards after a year and a day — and become permanent residents.
But, at the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. authorities processing Cuban asylum seekers are operating their own system of random categorization — one with the extraordinary power to define an immigrant’s legal future.
Some interviewing agents issue the parole traditionally used to process Cubans. This document comes with permission to work and allows them to apply for residency and, eventually, citizenship.
Others issue a I-220A document, which places people freed from custody in deportation proceedings.
So what’s the defining difference on which document is issued? As the Miami Herald reported, this seems to be based on which agent interviews an applicant.
In other words, Lady Luck.
Is this how the United States should execute immigration policy?
As reported by the Herald, Rachel Domínguez and her husband, Andy, after a harrowing trek from Nicaragua to the southern border, arrived together — but were interviewed separately by border agents.
Both had lived through the same personal, targeted political persecution before and after the historic July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba.
Both were processed and released — but he walked out with a parole form and she with an I-220A.
For that mere difference, he gets to become a resident and she’s needlessly in the deportation loop — and without status for the unforeseeable future.
It’s a wrong, deceitful practice, an underhanded way of dealing with the unprecedented amount of Cubans showing up at the border and asking for asylum, an internationally recognized right.
What did the Biden administration expect would happen after island-wide protests, instead of leading to changes on the island, unleashed an even more ruthless government crackdown, particularly on young people?
Those who participated and didn’t choose exile are in prison serving hard time.
Who can blame the Domínguezes for selling their possessions to pay for the trip, for choosing to risk their lives during a multi-country trek that included being held for ransom in Mexico? And, most tragically but perhaps fortuitous, deciding to not risk the lives of their two children, 12 and 6, leaving them with grandparents.
Sorting out the legal mess for Rachel Dominguez and the hundreds of thousands Cuban land arrivals who were given the I-220A, also known as “order of release on recognizance,” won’t be easy.
The federal Immigration Board of Appeals has ruled that Cubans who received the I-220A document aren’t eligible to apply for permanent residency under the CAA. The court said the form is “legally distinct” from humanitarian parole.
The Biden administration, which refused to answer questions from the Herald, has a lot of explaining to do.
Are Democrats also now in favor of family separation? Because that’s the prospect the Dominguezes face.
It doesn’t matter whether there’s a Democrat or Republican in the White House. Why is U.S. immigration law toward Cubans at the southern border being applied so randomly?
If the Biden administration wants to end the Cuban Adjustment Act, then the proper way to do it is by asking Congress to make it a priority.
Because that’s what it takes to legislate, an act of Congress, not an agent picking and choosing which migrants he or she likes.
Surely, a case can be made that Cubans should be treated like everyone else fleeing persecution. But that’s not for a border agent to decide by which form he fills out.
The past, present and future of Cuban immigration — until Congress acts and a president signs new legislation — is still bound to the law signed by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson on Nov. 2, 1966.
Biden’s Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban American, can tinker with the system to dissuade people from showing up at the border, as he did in 2022 by expanding legal pathways and incentives, like a phone app, to apply from anywhere in the world.
Whether any of those initiatives are working remains to be seen. An even bigger question looms: Will we ever get it right on immigration?
Not as long as policy is beholden to the politics of left and right — and the secrecy of a border agent’s cubicle.