© 2022 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Cuban Voters – And Congress Members – Want It Both Ways On Cuba And Immigration

Wilfredo Lee
DEMOCRACY HYPOCRISY? Cuban-Americans rally for Donald Trump on election day last November on Calle Ocho in Miami.

COMMENTARY A poll finds Florida's Cuban electorate wants its immigration benefits revived – but not the U.S. engagement in Cuba that it requires.

A new poll gauging the post-election mindset of Florida’s Cuban voters has one data point that’s triggering political PTSD in this corner of the peninsula.

According to the Bendixen & Amandi International survey, 40 percent of the Florida Cuban bloc – and two-thirds of that bloc who voted for former President Trump – don’t accept the results of the November election, which Trump clearly and fairly lost and President Biden clearly and legally won.

WLRN is committed to providing the trusted news and local reporting you rely on. Please keep WLRN strong with your support today. Donate now. Thank you.

But after watching Cuban-Americans flock to Trump in recent years – not just their enthusiastic support for his hardline Cuba policy, which I can respect, but their fanatical zeal for his fraudulent demonization of Biden as a comunista, which I can’t – I’m no more shocked by that poll finding than I am seeing people drink cortaditos on Calle Ocho.

No, the Bendixen result that really caught my eye is less related to the electoral contest of November – and more relevant to the immigration crisis of March. To wit: half of Florida’s Cuban voters want Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) revived.

READ MORE: U.S. Cuba Policy Can Cut Out the Miami Middleman and Still Consult Cuban Exiles

What’s astonishing about that? Consider in the same survey, two-thirds of Florida’s Cuban voters also said the U.S. should not revive engagement with communist Cuba.

In other words, Cuban-Americans are telling the Biden Administration to restore a coveted immigration benefit – but they’re also telling Biden to keep his hands off the hardline Trump agenda that essentially took CFRP away from them.

Rather than admit Trump was wrong about anything to do with Cuba or immigration, most Cuban voters and politicos - according to a new poll and border opportunism - opt for hypocrisy.

CFRP lets Cubans who are U.S. citizens sponsor family members back on the island to immigrate to this country. It’s federal law, created by Congress and a Republican president in 2007; but the Trump Administration effectively suspended it three years ago when it shut down U.S. visa processing in Havana.

It took that action in response to the mysterious illnesses several U.S. diplomats had suffered earlier in the Cuban capital – the cause of which has yet to be discovered. Those ailments served as an excuse to virtually shutter the U.S. embassy and its consular services there, just a few years after its re-opening.

That shutdown enraptured conservative Cuban-Americans who favor isolation of, rather than engagement with, the Cuban regime. It also delighted Trump’s nativist base, since it was another door slammed in migrants’ faces. But it’s created a backlog of some 100,000 visa applications from Cubans. That includes more than 20,000 related to the family reunification program – a stoppage half of Florida’s Cuban voters are now rather hypocritically grousing about.

And that does a lot to explain why two of Miami’s GOP Cuban-American Congresspersons, Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar, traveled far away from Florida this week to spend some quality political distraction time on the U.S. border with Mexico.

There, near El Paso, Texas, they joined the Republican chorus accusing Biden of miring the U.S. in migrant chaos as thousands of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America strain the government’s ability to receive them. Before leaving, Gimenez told Spanish-language radio in Miami the situation “is all Biden’s fault.” Salazar even suggested Biden policy bore some blame for increased child sex trafficking along the border.

Jose A. Iglesias
Miami Herald
A Cuban migrant family sleeps in a tent at Matamoros on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2019.

I’m not going to deny there’s an immigration crisis there. Nor will I overlook the reality that Biden and the Democrats did a lame job girding for the current mess when they knew full well the election of a more immigrant-friendly U.S. President would draw more desperate Latin Americans northward (though many admittedly left their countries before the November election).

But I’m also not going to ignore the fact that Trump spent four years utterly gutting much of the U.S.’s immigration infrastructure, especially at the border – or that many of the migrants crowding that border are Cubans who decided to trek to the U.S. through Mexico because they can’t get here now through means like CFRP. They’re no different in that regard than beleaguered Hondurans: both migrant groups are victims of oppressive and disastrous regimes at home – and subject to immigration policy dysfunction in the U.S.

Trump’s trashing of CFRP was just one more installment of that shambles. But rather than admit Trump was wrong about anything to do with Cuba or immigration, Cuban-American politicos like Gimenez and Salazar prefer to follow the hypocrisy laid bare in the Bendixen poll.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.