A Bridge Too Far - By Emiliano Antunez -Price of Liberty
A Bridge Too Far
By Emiliano Antunez

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January 23, 2006

On January 9th, 15 Cuban rafters plucked a few days earlier from the decrepit and unused Flagler Bridge in the Florida Keys were repatriated to their communist gulag homeland. The reason given by the US Government was that these migrants never achieved “dry foot” status under the Wet Foot-Dry Foot policy. This decision was based on the fact that the bridge was no longer in use and did not connect to dry land, so it was considered “wet.” This is just one more example of the bureaucratically sick twist of semantics going on In Washington DC.

Wet Foot-Dry Foot is a presidential decree signed by former President Bill Clinton; it allows those Cuban migrants that reach land to stay, while those intercepted in the water are returned to Cuba. This policy reduces US immigration policy to the level of a game of tag or hide and seek. The game is a deadly one because it tempts Cubans on the island to make the dangerous voyage across the Florida straights, in which thousands have drowned or been eaten by sharks. In response to a South Florida Congressman in 2000, then candidate Bush needed Cuban-American votes in Florida and said he would review the policy, implying he would make changes. Six years later, President Bush has left the controversial and deadly decree untouched.

The policy has also had its lighter and embarrassing moments. One of the more memorable ones was a group that had made a sea worthy vessel out of a 1950s vintage Chevrolet truck only to be intercepted at sea, but the persistent group tried again this time in an ocean faring Buick. On the embarrassing side were images of Coast Guardsmen spraying mace in the faces of Cuban rafters as they tried to swim unto the sands of Miami Beach.

The policy has also bolstered the people smuggling business. More and more fast boats, once employed in running drugs, are now making the trek across the straights to pick up human contraband at prices that range from $2,000 to $10,000 per head. This money is mostly paid by desperate relatives living in the US. The smuggling trips on the fast boats are not without peril, mechanical malfunctions along with heinous acts by some unscrupulous smugglers have led to a few deaths.

When you couple wet foot - dry foot with recently tightened restrictions on how much money Cubans in the US can send their relatives in Cuba ( Who is considered a relative is an issue in itself), and restricts how many times they can travel to visit them (once every 3 years), it makes the whole thing seem like a cruel joke. Does starvation encourage rebellion? Mao, Mugabe and Stalin would surely disagree. What they would agree with is imposing trade and travel restrictions on their own citizens, and inventing a new convoluted system in determining who is a relative and who isn’t.

There is a legal way in which Cubans can migrate to the US; it’s done in a lottery format known to those on the island as “El Bombo.” Much like the Wet Foot-Dry Foot policy, this also resembles a game of chance, one heavily influenced by the Cuban Government. This desperate game of chance allows 20,000 Cubans to migrate legally to the US every year.

The repatriation of the “wet” Cuban rafters sparked protest from some within the Cuban-American community and even led to a hunger strike by well known activist and leader of Movimiento Democracia Ramon Saul Sanchez. Though few will question Mr. Sanchez's commitment to a free and democratic Cuba, some might question his method.

The United States should re-establish control of its immigration. This does not mean that immigration be halted or decreased, but rather that it be done in a manner that is beneficial to the US and its economy. This means that the US should allow only potentially productive individuals and their immediate family in, not habitual felons or folks in their 60s coming over simply to receive Social Security Checks, Food Stamps and Medicare. These programs which came straight from the pages of Das Kapital are the real problem, not necessarily the immigrants.

President Bush should eliminate wet foot - dry foot and allow the INS to repatriate everyone who does not come in to the US in an orderly fashion. This would not only control the quality of individuals entering this country but also save lives by discouraging Cubans on the island from attempting the perilous trip across the straights. He should also stop restricting US citizens from traveling to the island or sending money to their misfortunate relatives. Immigration is necessary for the evolution of our society and good for our economy in many ways, but it can’t be left to the equivalent of a game of chance or hide and seek.

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