Due to an act of Congress, Cuban nationals who arrive in the U.S. after 1959 cannot be illegal immigrants. They're automatically refugees. It's amnesty! The federal government has spent billions to assist those who've fled Castro's regime. It was a Cold War policy, signed by President Johnson. If they can get to our shores (many have died in the process), they have an instant pathway to citizenship. They just have to get here. And since 1995, have what is referred to as "dry feet."
I say this to Republicans who seem to be aspiring now to win the Latino vote: Cubans are not Mexicans. So when the party touts Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as their go-to Latino - Politico called Rubio "the fresh-faced ambassador to conservatives" (It's since been scrubbed) - they're not wooing the 31 million Latinos who identify themselves as Mexican-American, the biggest Latino group and therefore biggest Latino voting bloc in the U.S.
Cubans may speak Spanish, and be from someplace else, but their immigration experience is unique to the island they come from ... and our policy toward said island.
And Puerto Ricans, the second largest Latino group in the country, are also not "illegals." They're Americans. The island is a U.S. territory. I'm just trying to help you out, Republicans.
The point is: Putting Marco Rubio out on immigration reform is cynical conservative tokenism (ala Sarah Palin, Herman Cain and Nikki Haley), but it also proves the hypothesis by Mexican-Americans: Republicans don't actually care about them. One clue is that they assume they're pretty much Cubans.
Immigration reform's focus (and sticking point) is what to do about the estimated 11 million people who live here without documentation. A 2005 Pew Hispanic Center report says 56 percent of them are from Mexico, 22 percent from other Latin American countries (mainly Central America), 13 percent are Asian, 6 percent Canadian and European and 3 percent African. (None are Cuban.)
These 11 million people - nearly 80 percent of whom are Latino and using what Newt Gingrich called "the language of the ghetto" - make up our underground economy and exploited underclass.
Republicans have loved vilifying this group of people: From candidate for governor of California Meg Whitman saying we should "prosecute illegal aliens and criminal aliens in all of our cities, in every part of California," to Arizona's SB 1070 and Congressman Brian Bilbray saying you can tell if someone is illegal (not by their race, but) by their shoes. Bilbray lost his seat, by the way. And Meg who?
Mitt Romney's "plan" was for self-deportation. He also went after Mensa contender Rick Perry for educating "illegals" in his state. But then went on Univision with a dark bronze tan to address Spanish speakers.
Republicans have opted for a Southern Strategy: a South-of-the-Border Southern Strategy. It failed. Now they're trying to reverse course.
The Hispanic Leadership Network, a GOP-affiliated group, suggested the party nix the words "illegals" and "aliens" and not use the word "amnesty," which some tea-buzzed Republicans took as a challenge to see how many times they could use all three in a sentence. It's hard to teach the Grand Old Party new tricks.
Republicans moralize about illegal immigrants. "We're a nation of laws: they broke the law. End of sound bite." If we can make the subjugated underclass somehow immoral then their continued exploitation is therefore acceptable. The labor they do doesn't need to be fairly paid for - it's penance for breaking the law. To Republicans, the wave of immigration from Mexico is a giant chain gang. When they get here, they're automatically felons so they deserve what they get.
But this has backfired on Republicans. It lost them the White House (yet again). They realize this. They want to be in power. That means they need the Latino vote. Their solution is to prop up a Cuban-American (whose parents came to this country before Castro) to go on Hannity and relay that his plan for the undocumented is for them to stand in line: "You have to wait your turn behind everyone who applied before you legally, and when your turn comes up, you have to qualify for the visa you're applying for."
Giving weight to a Cuban-American on illegal immigration is like giving credence to the head of HSBC (or Barclays or UBS for that matter) on prisons.
Yeah, very little personal experience on the subject.
Tina Dupuy is an award-winning writer and the editor-in-chief of TheContributor.com. Tina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.