There have been several regions of United States that have gone through cultural changes throughout time. The indigenous people on the East coast went through a cultural change when the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. The people that lived in the North went through a cultural change when the French entered by the St. Lawrence River bringing their Roman Catholicism religion. The people that were living in what is now Alaska went through cultural change when the Russians entered the area with their new language and orthodox religion. More recently, the people of Miami have gone through cultural changes since the Cubans have entered Southern Florida. To understand the migration of Cubans to Southern Florida, one must be familiar with the history of Cuban migration, immigration policies, and their implications.
While the United States immigration policy has traditionally reflected economic and xenophobic concerns, the United States refugee policy has reflected foreign policy concerns. During the Cold War, U.S. refugee policy was used as a tool to embarrass communist regimes. In the process of shaming communist countries, refugees from these states were evidence that the U.S. was winning its tussle with communism. A 1953 National Security Council memorandum cited the 1953 Refugee Act as a way to “encourage defection of all USSR nations and ‘key’ personnel from the satellite countries’ in order to ‘inflict a psychological blow on
Communism’, and a material loss to the Soviet Union” (Zolberg, 123-124).
In 1959, the U.S. was afforded the opportunity to implement the 1953 memorandum when Fidel Castro implemented a communist government in Cuba. It is likely that the composers of the memorandum did not anticipate a flow of refugees with less than one hundred miles to travel. However, the United States stuck to their policy and by the early 80’s, approximately one million Cubans had fled to the United States.
The fall of the Soviet Union ushered in a new era of refugee and immigration policy toward Cubans. The collapse of the Soviet Union also meant the cessation of aid to its satellites. Without Soviet aid, conditions in Cuba steadily deteriorated, and the people of Cuba took to the streets in protest. In 1994, Castro answered the uprising by allowing Cubans to leave the country unmolested, and about thirty thousand obliged by taking boats to the United States. However, prior to the mass exodus, the United States policy towards Cuba was beginning to: “First, with the end of the Cold War, there was less need to embarrass the communist regime in Cuba, although the U.S. maintained its embargo against the island. Second, there was continuing public pressure to limit immigration. Finally, it became apparent to some U.S. officials
Castro would continue to use refugee flows to rid the country of opponents or undesirable elements” (Crisp, 218).
In addition to the aforementioned reasons, the United States was also concerned with the safety of the Cuban refugees at sea. By fall of 1994, the United States and Cuba agreed to redirect the flow of people from Cuba through “safe, legal, and orderly channels”. Thirty thousand Cubans were intercepted at sea, returned to the U.S. navel base at Guantanamo Bay, and eventually allowed to enter the United States in accordance with the agreement.
The United States and Cuba agreement had four points: the U. S. agreed to stop automatically accepting Cuban refugees, Cuba pledged to discourage unsafe methods of departure, both countries agreed to take effective action against the hijackers of Cuban aircraft and ships, and the U.S. vowed to issue twenty thousand visas to Cubans annually. In compliance with the first point of the agreement, the United States would return Cuban refugees who were picked up at sea if they could not identify a legitimate reason that they would be persecuted after their return to Cuba. Cuba was then under an obligation to reintegrate the attempted migrants into Cuban society without punishment. The United States Interests Section in Cuba, which regularly checks on the returnees
So they are not subjected to government persecution, monitors this obligation.
Now, the only legal way to immigrate to the United States is by one of the three programs administered by the United States. The first program, acquiring a visa, requires the perspective immigrant to have a qualified sponsor already in the United States. The second avenue to the United States from Cuba is found by gaining refugee status. A Cuban can attain refugee status by applying at the refugee procession unit at the U.S. Interests Section. The perspective immigrant must be able to legitimately prove that they have been, or will be persecuted in Cuba. The third method of legally entering the United States from Cuba is the Special Cuban Migration Program, or the “Cuban Lottery”. Any interested Cuban adult may apply for the lottery, however they must pass an interview regarding education, work experience, and relatives already in the United States. Lottery winners who pass the interview process must then meet medical and criminal requirements before migrating.
Despite the legal ways Cubans are able to enter the United States many Cubans are still entering illegally. As seen on the news, as well as other television sources, many brave the ocean waters and try to swim the ninety miles to Southern Florida. Other exiles use “anything that floats, from tiny skiffs to large shrimp
boats to cross the ocean” (Chaze, 56). It is obvious that many Cubans just want to get out; “A million Cubans out of 11 million on the island would leave if given the opportunity” (Rieff, 88).
No matter the way in which the exiles escape from Cuba and enter the United States, legal or illegal, they are entering in extraordinary amounts. A popular region that Cubans are migrating to is Miami, Florida. “Exiles already number 650,00 and account for more than half of the population of Miami and surrounding Dade County” (Chaze, 55).
There are various reasons Cubans migrate to Miami. First of all, Miami is a bilingual city. It is easier for Cubans to live in a city that Spanish is spoken. In Miami Cubans are able to get by with learning little English. “The area’s lasting magnetism for Cubans is understandable. Since Miami is now officially a bilingual city, a Cuban can go from cradle to grave without ever learning English” (Chaze, 56). Another reason Cubans have migrated to Miami is “geographic proximity” (Rief, 80). It is only logical that they would migrate to a city on the tip of Florida verses a city to the East or West, because it is a shorter distance they have to travel.
“Housing is in such critically short supply that more than 45,000 persons are on a waiting list that is enough to fill all vacancies for the next four years” (Chaze, 56). The fact there is such a shortage in housing, has enabled owners to increase the amount of rent. “Rents, among the highest in the nation, are much too steep for refugee earning minimum wage” (Chaze, 56). Not only are the rents too high for the refugees, they are too high for many people living in Miami, which in turn, has generated a negative feeling towards Cubans in Miami.
Another possible reason for the negative feelings towards Cubans is “over the past twenty years, the government has poured over a billion dollars into job training, care, and other benefits for Cuban refugees” (Chaze, 56). Some Americans feel that the United States needs to step back and take another look at what money is being spent on. Metropolitan Mayor Steve Clark states, “We’ve got more on our hands than we can handle. Unless the federal government gets off its backside and helps us, we’re in deep trouble” (Chaze, 55).
Residents, as well as politicians, are concerned about what is happening in Miami. Some residents feel that their homes are being taken away from them, whereas Cubans feel they are building new homes. A salesman by the name of Purcell Preston stated, “A lot of us feel Miami has gone overboard with the Cubans.
It is starting to look like they took the city away from us” (Chaze, 55). However, it is not just Purcell and his friends. In a poll conducted by a Miami News station, two thirds of the respondents voiced bitter opposition to the settlement of any more Cubans (Chaze, 55).
There has to be a solution that will help control the migration of Cuban refugees into the United States. However, this could be complicated considering the various agreements the United States has with Cuba. The United States must try to create a solution to limit the overall admission levels of Cuban refugees without backing out of the Cuban lottery agreement. For the time being, the United States must comply with this agreement, or otherwise face the possibility of Castro allowing unregulated migration again. When trying to reform immigration policies, the United States must decrease accommodations to those illegal refugees. Such reductions should include a verification system, and also limit family-sponsored immigration.
Introducing a verification system could help discourage illegal immigration. This system denies employment to those entering the United States illegally, thus prohibiting them from supporting themselves. This results in the encouragement of those wishing to come to the U.S. to go through the proper channels.
Doing so would give these immigrants equal benefits received by all citizens. Limiting family-sponsored immigration to only the spouse and minor children of U.S. citizens or legal permanent resident and the parents of U.S. citizens (as long as they are supported by the sponsor) will reduce the admission of immigrants or refugees too. Currently, one of the three requirements for qualification of the Cuban lottery is you must “have a relative residing in the United States.” By limiting immigration in the proposed solution, it would significantly reduce the amount of refugees and immigrants migrating from Cuba. These reductions are made possible through elimination of visas for siblings of United States citizens, adult sons or daughters of both United States citizens and legal permanent residents (LPR), and the children of spouses and citizens.
It is a known fact that places change over time. However, the situation is Miami is unique. In Miami, there are residents that are from an Anglo-American heritage, and residents that are from Cuban heritage; both wanting Miami to be their home. Economically and culturally, Miami is having trouble holding the large amounts of people that are migrating there. “A fresh wave of Cubans, there are conflicts between residents largely penniless, is putting a squeeze on South Florida. Jobs and housing are scarce-and tensions are rising” (Chaze, 55).
There are problems in most cities, but the problem in Miami is one that definitely needs to be addressed. Some Cubans that are living in the United States feel as if they are not a part of our country and have no other choice but to come here. Most Cubans are making every effort to get to the United States and stay here. Many try to escape Cuba on boats or rafts made by hand. Some have tried to swim their way to freedom. Regardless of the way they are getting here, one must not be so quick to forget that many years ago other ethnic groups migrated to this country, and if it were not for those immigrants a lot of us would probably not be here today. A county grows by the way of its people, and we as citizens of the United States must allow our country to grow by allowing it to change in various ways, shapes, and forms. The situation with Cuba is a unique one, and must be dealt with in a proper way.
Crisp, Jeffery. “The Asylum Dilemma.” State of the World’s
Refugees: a Humanitarian Agenda. Eds. Jeffery Crisp, Marina
Randay-Caos and Rachel Reily. New York: 1997. p. 218.
Rieff, David. “From Exiles to Immigrants.” Foreign Affairs.
July/August 1995: 76-89.
The Federation For American Immigration Reform. Home Page:
United States Department of State. Home Page: Cuba:
Migration: 16 Mar. 2000, http://www.stste.gov/www/regions/sha/cuba/migration. Html.
Zolberg, Aristide. “From Invitation to Interdiction: US