During yesterday evening’s Republican presidential debacle in Las Vegas, the party’s bat boy, Marco Rubio, was asked a straight question: Does he still support a path citizenship for undocumented immigrants as he did two years ago? Rubio saw this as his cue to state his immigrant credentials: “Immigration is not an issue that I read about in the newspaper or watch a documentary on PBS or CNN. It’s an issue I’ve lived around my whole life. My family are immigrants; my wife’s family are immigrants; all of my neighbors are immigrants.” He then went on to explain that nothing can (or will) be done for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States until the federal government hires “at least 20,000 more border agents” and builds “700 miles of fencing” along the Big (mostly dry now) River.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to turn a serious political discussion into a telenovela, CNN had its anchorwoman Dana Bash then prod the other Republican senator on stage, Ted Cruz, by asking him whether he thought his views were similar to Rubio’s. Cruzy responded per the script:
You know, there was ‘a time for choosing,’ as Reagan put it [of course], where there was a battle over amnesty, and some chose, like Senator Rubio, to side with Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer, and support a massive amnesty plan. Others chose to stand with Jeff Sessions and Steve King and the American people, and secure the border.
And let me mention: this issue is actually directly connected to what we’ve been talking about, because the frontline with ISIS isn’t just in Iraq and Syria, it’s also in Kennedy airport and the Rio Grande. Border security is security, and one of the most troubling aspects of the Rubio-Schumer Gang of Eight bill is it gave President Obama blanket authority to admit refugees, including Syrian refugees, without mandating any background checks whatsoever. Now we have seen what happened in San Bernardino when you are letting people in and the FBI can’t vet them — it puts American citizens at risk.
I tell you, if I’m elected president, we will secure the border. We will triple the border patrol. We will build a wall that works, and I’ll get Donald Trump to pay for it.
Trump, beaming as usually whenever his name is mentioned, said it was up to the task.
Then it was Rubio’s turn to respond, sparking of a tussle between the two model minority candidates over who was more American (read: anti-immigrant) than the other:
[TRIGGER WARNING: The following video may make some readers lose all hope in U.S. democracy.]
To see two Cuban senators — the “son[s] of immigrants,” as they love to claim — arguing for a tougher immigration system is deceiving. True, as with any second-generation Latino United Statesian, Rubio’s and Cruz’s parents were born in Latin America, which is likely the main reason the Republican Party loves to trot these two show ponies on stage every election year (meaning every year). Who better to pitch the idea of tightening “the border” to U.S. voters than two proud products of immigration?
Still, most Latinos roll their eyes when they hear Cruz or Rubio talking up his immigrant experience. Cruz and Rubio are Cubans, after all, and Cubans are not so much immigrants than they are honored guests, according to the U.S. government. The United States’s mistreatment toward the not so tiny island 90 miles to its south makes it so that any Cuban who sets toe on U.S. soil is placed on a fast track to permanent residency — a policy Seussianly name “Wet Foot/Dry Foot.” In the 12-month period ending this past September, over 43,100 Cubans took advantage of this special pathway by reaching the United States, marking a 78-percent increase over the previous year’s total. Naturally no one discusses this odd arrangement; the anti-Castro lobby being as powerful as it is, the United States happily opens its door to any Cuban fleeing the ravages of the embargo… I mean socialism.
In October I wrote about an exposé by the Sun-Sentinel showing that at least some of the Cubans escaping their homeland promptly return once they’ve begun receiving citizenship benefits, which they’re eligible for as soon as they arrive in the United States. Welfare checks are deposited monthly into bank accounts in South Florida while their recipients are kicking their feet up back in Havana. Apparently life under Castro and the Commies isn’t so bad, so long as you can get the U.S. government to spring for a few luxuries.
Ask any of the tens of thousands of refugees scrambling to make it to the Texas-Mexico border each year and they’ll tell you that, for most Latin American immigrants, the U.S. policy is quite different. Once they’ve made it through Mexico — whose government is under pressure from Washington to stop refugees, and whose gangs are looking to rape and plunder — any Honduran mother or Guatemalan child who dares step foot in the United States is hauled off to a crowded prison cell and placed on a not so fast track to deportation.
And whereas Cubans returning to Santiago face state repression, Hondurans returning to San Pedro Sula face U.S.-sponsored government violence and one of the highest murder rates in the word. As terrible as conditions are in Cuba, many Hondurans wish they had a government like the one in Havana. At least Cubans have some rights, such as the right to a decent education and the best healthcare system in the world. The vast majority of Hondurans — meaning the poor ones — have no rights.
Remember this the next time you hear Rubio or Cruz (but especially Rubio) talk as though he can relate with the average immigrant.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.