NORTH MIAMI BEACH — Life is rife with little misunderstandings: look what happened when President Bush told Seymour Hersh that he was going to try to win over Ahmadinejad with a “new Koran”! Hersh reported that we were going to “nuke Iran,” so we’re off to the races. And poor Cynthia McKinney thought that detector was out to test her mettle, so we’re off to the racism.
We need to be sympathetic. Haven’t we ever made mistakes? All of us have once looked for our glasses when they were on our foreheads or our watches when they were on our wrists. So why can’t we be more understanding of a Mexican who went on a bender and wound up on the wrong side of the border? Or a South American who gambled away his return ticket at a casino and had to overstay his visa by twenty years? There’s eleven million of them, but they work hard: we’re thinking of moving Labor Day to Sept. 11th.
So I’ll tell you what. Here’s my deal. If you guys in the Senate want to ram through an immigration bill to reach out and bring all these folks into the Big Tent of the Republican Party, I’ll bite my lip and go along. I won’t be legalistic or puristic or a nudnik. You want me to give you your short-order cooks and your lawn guys and your house painters, you got it.
But I want something in return. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door, right here in Miami. Give me your Cubans. (No, not the cigars. Apparently Babbin copped all of those.)
HERE WE HAVE one of the great ironies. The one group of emigres with the most legitimate claim for asylum is the Cubans. The one law-abiding cadre that doesn’t make large demonstrations is the Cubans. The one enclave that never presses for bilingual education but works to master English without complaint is the Cubans. (You would never hear them yelling “March!” in April.) And — here is your full daily USDA RDA of irony — the only reliable clique of Hispanic voters for the Republican Party is Cuban. Well, guess what? As things stand, the proposed immigration bill leaves the Cubans missing the boat.
These folks are living ninety miles from our shores under the longest-ruling dictator on the planet. While he jubilantly closes in on his jubilee, defiant in his autocracy, oppressive and restrictive and vindictive, we not only refrain from interfering in his internal affairs, we turn away his escapees. Plenty of hardy Cubans would hot-foot it here, but they get cold feet because of our “wet foot – dry foot” policy. This means that after days of baking in the sun on a makeshift raft made out of a car fender and a few pickle barrels, then swimming with labored strokes toward shore, throat parched, breathing stertorous, spirit flickering, if the Coast Guard can intercept you a foot from shore, back you go to the Communist paradise. Foot on shore, more sure of foot, you stay.
Whichever spineless State Department wonk thought that up in time immemorial has long since ossified and become fossilized in his chair. The original memo probably sits in a dusty, musty file somewhere in the National Archives under one of those classic one-word titles. It’s undoubtedly called “Rapprochement” or some such elegant evasion, instead of its true name: “Tergiversation.” What a sorry face to put on our noble nation!
The most recent travesty to emerge from this approach came a few months ago, when a few desperate Cubans managed to guide their ersatz craft onto shore at the base of a bridge in the Florida Keys. The Coast Guard turned them back anyway, because that bridge was no longer in service and they did not view that as an active extension of American soil. A court later reversed that ruling, but — oops, too late — the people are back singing “Havana, hold your hand.”
The Cubans themselves are reluctant to press their case at this juncture, because they do not want to be thought of as being on an equal plane with illegals. They wonder, as we do, why the illegals are stealing the march on them, why the inmates are getting the asylum. We need to be courageous and advance their cause.
The old Cuban joke goes like this. Castro tells his people there are only wood chips to eat. They shout: “Give us wood chips! Give us wood chips!” Then he says they are down to the stones. “Give us stones! Give us stones!” Finally, one day he announces that humanitarian aid has arrived and there is food. “Give us teeth! Give us teeth!” How about a bill with some teeth?
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