They proudly wear their Trump/Pence T-Shirts and “Make America Great Again” hats as they rant about the scourge of illegal immigrants. They view the now President-Elect as not just a political candidate, but rather a saviour who will round up all the illegals and send them back to where they came from. And while he’s at it, he’ll build that wall to make sure they don’t return.
This scene has been repeated so often in the U.S. over the past 18 months there is hardly anything new about it. Except with this group, there is something different, and some may say puzzling, about this hardline stance. These aren’t white nationalists in the rural South or disaffected blue collar workers in the rust belt.
These voices calling for Latino deportations are Cuban Americans, most of which reside in South Florida.
More and more, Cuban hardliners are speaking out in support of Trump and his tough talk on illegal immigration. The poster boy for this group is this guy who took to Youtube to tell illegals to get out of the country and he would grab his gun to defend it if necessary. And while his voice may have been the loudest, it is certainly not the only one.
The Arizona Republic ran a story in February of this year in which several Cuban Americans talked about their support of Trump. One of them was Raul Bravo who has lived in Miami since 1980.
“I like Trump. He’s got a big mouth, but I like him, because he talks clear,” Bravo said. And he said the talk of a deportation force doesn’t bother him because most of that is targeted at Mexicans. “With Mexicans, you never know who’s coming from Mexico,” he said.
The Special Privilege Afforded by Wetfoot/Dryfoot
While there has been much talk during this campaign about how Latinos would rise up and speak with one voice, the reality is quite different. Cuban Americans have little in common with immigrants from Mexico and Central America and often their priorities don’t align. If it seems like Cuban Americans don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else, that’s probably because they don’t.
In 1995 the Clinton Administration reached an agreement with Cuban government that any refugee caught at sea would be sent back to Cuba while any refugee who reaches the United States shores would be allowed to begin the process to citizenship after one year. This is a privilege afforded to one section of Latino immigrants that does not extend to everyone else.
The Historic Connection Between Cubans and Republicans
There are two characteristics that have tended to define Cuban American politics over the past 50 years: (1) they are very active and extremely well-organized, and (2) they are very conservative in their views. This is not surprising given the first wave of mass immigration at the time of the Revolution saw mostly wealthy, upper class Cubans flood into South Florida. Also, Republicans tended to take more of a hard line against Castro and his Communist regime which would naturally appeal to anyone who had to live through its misery.
This support has been consistently evident at the ballot box. A study by the Pew Research Center found that in 2012 “more than 70 percent of Latino voters supported Barack Obama, but Florida’s Cuban-American voters split, with 49 percent supporting Obama and 47 percent in favor of Mitt Romney.” The divide between Cubans and other Latinos was even more stark in Florida in this recent election. Non-Cuban Latinos went for Hillary Clinton by a 71-26 margin in the state. Cubans, on the other hand, supported Trump by a 54-41 split.
A Disturbing Hypocrisy
Without question some of the Pro-Trump Cuban support can be attributed to the natural connection between that constituency and the Republican Party. Another chunk can be chalked up to President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba without any guarantee of human rights improvements there. But the vitriolic rhetoric coming from a segment of the Cuban American population against other Latino immigrants is disturbing, to put it mildly.
First of all, these hard liners should remember that most of their community arrived in this country illegally in search of a better life. They now enjoy freedoms and comforts that were so important, they risked their lives in pursuit of them. And now these same people are turning around and telling others who followed in the same path that they have to get out and go back where they came from? They would deny their fellow immigrants the same basic human rights and freedoms that they themselves now enjoy.
And secondly, if it weren’t for the Wetfoot/Dryfoot policy, a policy many are calling for the repeal of, they would find themselves on the other end of the calls for deportation. It would be easy to understand this lack of empathy and perspective if it were coming from second and third generation Americans. In this case however, many of the people calling for mass deportations have only been in this country for a decade or two. How quickly we find the shoe on the other foot.
Time to Heal The Divide
This country is at a very tenuous crossroads. As cliché as it may sound, there is some veracity in the statement ‘tensions have never been higher.’ It seems every group has a one grievance or another against some other group. It’s easy to look at a country that isn’t exactly how you’d like it at point the finger at the other groups who are to blame. This will take us down a very dangerous path. Soon finger pointing turns to pushing and pushing turns to shoving and, in the blink of an eye, violence is erupting everywhere.
We all have to decide if we are going to add to tensions or try to rise above them, if not attempt to alleviate them. One positive step in this direction would be if the Cuban hardliners, kept in mind that if were not for Wetfoot/Dryfoot, they would be in the crosshairs of those bombastic shouts from people in the red hats longing to make America great again.