Residency Rights Provide Asylum for Those Running Away from Oppression by Elizabeth Martinez

“It could have been me” said Cariana, a 25 year-old architecture graduate who lives in Venezuela, after talking about the murder of Genesis Carmona, a beauty queen, and why she is no longer protesting in the streets of her home country.

The streets that once held makeshift baseball diamonds, and children running, hopping, playing now are the stage for protests and murder. More than a dozen students have been killed on the Venezuelan streets while marching and rallying for political change .

Cariana is unemployed and hoping that the latin nation she calls her own will soon change. Because Cariana is Venezuelan however, she cannot seek political asylum in the United States, and she isn’t alone.

The last few years have brought about intense, rapid political change around the world.  From the turmoil of the Arab Spring, to the geopolitical unrest spanning throughout Europe and Asia, across the Atlantic, and into Cuba and Venezuela, people everywhere are crying out for change: political and economic. They are all seeking the same thing: freedom. But, not all immigrants have the same opportunities.

Since the Cuban Adjustment Act of the 1960s, and the Clinton Administration, Cubans have received special immigration rights. Because of policies like Wet Foot Dry foot, and the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act, Cuban immigrants are able to receive permanent residency in the United States after only one year, as long as they set foot on American soil.

To Cubans fleeing from the oppressive Castro Regime, which continues to suppress entrepreneurship and the press, the Cuban Adjustment Act provided hope for a better future. So long as they are able to make the 90 mile journey, they are granted freedom.

However, so many immigrants from other nations are finding themselves being deported, despite having lived here a year, which is the required time for Cubans before receiving residency, and they all share the same question: Why Cubans only?  Some critics believe that this group receives special, and unfair, treatment.

“I don’t think it’s fair or unfair, I feel that it isn’t a good thing to send home other immigrants like Mexicans for example, because most of them do come for a better life and to escape violence and poverty, but my family did benefit from special residency rights so it’s not like I’d say it’s unfair…it’s unfortunate for other and those rights should be given to anyone in need of a better way of life. I don’t think anyone should be denied opportunities.” said high school junior Fabian Mora, who immigrated to Miami from Cuba when he was 7.

Since the Spanish-American War, Cuba and the United States have shared a special relationship, one that became increasingly tense during the Cold War.  The result was a large exodus of Cuban exiles that came to the United States.

But, refuge is more and more difficult to find.  The Obama Administration has deported a total of 369,644 illegal immigrants in 2013 alone. And the top four countries on the list of removed population by citizenship, according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement were Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; Cuba wasn’t even within the top 10.

Although the reason may be that the Cuban people have lived under the dictatorship of the Castro brothers for sixty years, that has only worsened every day, more and more countries’ people, like Venezuela’s, are finding themselves under tough, totalitarian governments, like Cuba’s. And so the question begs to be asked: should those same rights of residency be granted to all immigrants coming from a country like Cuba?

Recently Marco Rubio called Venezuela, and the Marduro regime, “puppets of Havana, completely infiltrated by Cubans and agents from Havana” that “[looks] more and more like Cuba economically and politically every single day.”

And since late President Hugo Chavez, along with his socialist government, came into power in 1999, waves of Venezuelan immigrants have come to stay; more so now than ever because of the protests that have erupted in the past weeks against the Marduro Regime.

Jorge Duany, Director of the Cuban Research Institute at FIU argues that “Venezuela is not a communist country yet, it could become one, but Cuba is the only communist country in the West, so we treat them differently. But, I think [granting them the same residency rights] should be considered.”

Rubio is taking such a consideration to action and is demanding that sanctions and embargos, like the ones we have against Cuba be put into place. He, along with New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who is the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are sponsoring a resolution to place “strong individual sanctions against individuals in the Venezuelan government who hold assets, property, and travel visas to the U.S.”

Their resolution resembles the intent of the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which acted against Russian officials that were apart of a human rights violation case.

And so, if we begin to treat Venezuela the same way we treat Cuba, shouldn’t we treat Venezuelan immigrants the same way we treat Cuban immigrants? U.S. history teacher John Moffi thinks so.

“All countries have an obligation to establish a set of rules for people entering their country…but the United States to me is different…people come here because we are their last best chance for freedom. I certainly think that we should extend those rights to people. Many times, I think that people who come here have a better value of this country than people that were born here.” said Mr.Moffi

Both the older generation, and newer generation want the same rights granted to a broader range of immigrants  escaping themselves same troubles. Jorge Duany, John Moffi, and Fabian Mora all agree the acts were in the context of history during the cold war era, and were a product of their times, but that a broader coverage should be considered.

For the older generation, this is an issue of the hardships they went through, and wanting a better life for those still trying to escape. For the younger generation, it is a debate of how far expansion of these rights will go, and the thin line of granting residency to an oppressive government when there are so many just like them: North Korea, Syria, Russia.

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