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Immigration Law

The Cuban Adjustment Act Of 1966: Past And Future

By David Abraham

The Obama administration's moves to expand relations with Cuba have stoked interest in the future of what is known as the Cuban Adjustment Act, which has been law since 1966. In this Emerging Issues Analysis, historian and professor of Immigration Law at the University of Miami School of Law David Abraham explains its background, operation, good and bad points, and prospects. He writes:

“On November 2, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law what is usually called the Cuban Adjustment Act ("CAA"). The chief legislative sponsor of the Cuban Adjustment Act had been Senator Edward Kennedy, but the bill enjoyed wide bipartisan support, sailing through a liberal and Democratic Congress by a 300-25 margin in the House and an unchallenged voice vote in the Senate. In conjunction with an economic and trade embargo and other sanctions and covert projects of various unsavory sorts, the avowed purpose of the CAA was to weaken and, if possible, topple the communist government of Cuban President Fidel Castro while aiding his victims.

“Although its numbers were still relatively small, far from today's one and a half million, a politically dedicated Cuban emigre community, led by committed and extraordinarily well-situated exile leaders, energized the issue. The escalation of warfare in Vietnam and rising tensions with the Soviet Union and China contributed further energy to the anti-Castro efforts. Few dissented from the U.S. commitment to undoing Castro's government and the alleged revolutionary mischief it was encouraging in Latin American and throughout the Third World. As such, the CAA can only be properly understood as a linchpin in the Cold War struggles of the United States and as a form of special relief for Cubans seeking to come to the United States.

“The Cuban Adjustment Act promises work authorization and, after one year's presence in the United States, the right of permanent residency (a ‘green card’) to any Cuban arriving 2 in the United States by any means, legal or illegal. By so doing, the CAA exempts Cubans from those aspects of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) 3 that render inadmissible and deportable all other aliens arriving in the United States illegally — surreptitiously, outside a designated port of entry, or without valid documentation such as a passport or entry visa — and who cannot sustain an individualized claim of asylum or well-founded fear of persecution. De facto, the CAA turns each and every Cuban reaching the U.S. shore into a meritorious asylee. This is treatment afforded people of absolutely no other nationality.”

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