Immigration, Deportation, & the GOP: Implications of the Cuba-U.S. Thawing


In a seemingly sudden about-face, the White House announced what everyone thought must come eventually: U.S. relations with Cuba have been normalized, ending one of the last vestiges of the Cold War. The U.S. embargo against Cuba has been dismantled and the first phone call between the presidents of both countries since 1959 took place at noon on December 17, 2014. Pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle responded on cue: Marco Rubio (R, the son of Cuban immigrants) criticized the move as "part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established";  John Kerry announced that the previous 6-decade policy had “remained virtually frozen, and done little to promote a prosperous, democratic and stable Cuba.

As much of the focus is on how this will change the island, the decision has implications for the mainland, too:

1) “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” and Immigration:
Cubans have enjoyed a privileged status regarding immigration, compared to the rest of Latin America. The basics: if you’re Cuban and have one “dry” foot on U.S. land, you are automatically eligible for permanent residency.

Up to now, Cubans have never been “illegal aliens” because of the wet foot/dry foot policy. Those intercepted by the Coast Guard before touching land (two “wet” feet) are repatriated to a third country.

But with the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, the policy (which was a punitive response to the Cuban regime) is surely going to end. When will Cuban immigrants cease enjoying this privilege?

2) Stalwart GOP voters no more?
Since the 1960s, Cuban-Americans have been reliable Republican voters. They’ve wielded disproportionate influence, relative to their numbers, because they’re concentrate in one state (Florida)—a state whose electoral college votes tip the U.S. presidency. But Pew has noted that younger Cuban-Americans are less GOP-inclined than their parents.

This is a trend already underway. In 2002, 64% of registered Cuban-American voters leaned Republican and only 22% leaned Democrat. But just one decade saw a shift of nearly 20% for both: in 2013, 47% of registered Cuban-American voters leaned Republican and 44% leaned Democrat.

For the sake of comparison, 60% of Latinos lean Democrat.

So, what happens when Cuban immigrants face the same anti-immigrant rhetoric and politics particularly favored in some parts of the right? Will more of them defect from the GOP?

Or will the Republican party realize that, in order to grow, it needs to soften on immigration more broadly and that there is terrain to be won in this area? 

3) Deportation of Cuban criminals living in the U.S.:
As one Cuban-American law-enforcement expert (okay, my cousin) remarked, there are "hundreds, if not thousands of Cubans that have received orders of deportation for their criminal activities in the U.S. Many will have to be hunted down and repatriated." 

This will involve an unprecedented "rush" of law enforcement cooperation between two countries where such ties have not existed. Who coordinates that? What are the terms of these agreements? Will this lead to an increased militarization of the Cuban police? 

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