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In Floor Speech, Rubio Urges Senate To End Abuse Of Cuban Refugee Benefits

Apr 13, 2016 | Comunicados de Prensa

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke on the Senate floor today in favor of an amendment he has filed to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act that addresses the well-documented abuses of federal refugee benefits and safeguards American taxpayer funds. The amendment will bring parity between Cuban refugees and every other refugee when dealing with federal benefits.

Rubio’s amendment is based on S. 2441, “The Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2016,” which he introduced in January.

A transcript of Rubio’s full remarks is available below. A video of Rubio’s remarks is available here

EL SENADOR MARCO RUBIO
Senate Floor Speech
April 13, 2016
https://youtu.be/37nKfAujsgM

Senator Marco Rubio: “I want to discuss briefly an amendment that I have now pending to the bill before us, the bill on the F.A.A. It’s an amendment that’s drafted to the finance portion of this bill and it deals with welfare reform. For two decades now, it has been the policy of the United States that new immigrants to the United States do not qualify for welfare and other public assistance programs for their first five years in the country.

“So just to lay out what that means, if you’re an immigrant to the United States, a legal immigrant to the United States, for the first five years that you are in this country you do not qualify for any federal welfare or other public assistance programs. And of course illegal immigrants do not qualify at all for federal assistance programs. But there is an exception to this federal law, and the exception from this policy is for refugees and asylees who come to our shores seeking shelter from persecution. So, while immigrants to the United States do not get federal benefits, if you can prove that you are a refugee fleeing persecution, then you do qualify for federal assistance. For these people who can prove that they’re fleeing persecution, our compassionate country makes this financial commitment so they can get a new start on life and a leg up. But there’s a provision of existing law that many people are not aware of, and a provision of this existing law basically says that anyone who comes from Cuba regardless of why you came to the United States, you are automatically and immediately presumed to be a refuge and therefore you are automatically and immediately eligible for welfare and other public assistance. In essence, our existing law treats all Cubans categorically as if they were refugees whether or not they can prove it.

“Now, as many of you know, I am the son of Cuban immigrants. I live in a community where Cuban exiles have had an indelible imprint in our country, on the state of Florida, and in South Florida in particular, and yet I stand here today to say that this provision of law, this distinction, is no longer justified. This financial incentive, this notion, this reality that if you get here from Cuba, you are going to immediately qualify for federal benefits has encouraged the current migratory crisis in which today thousands of Cubans are making dangerous trips to come to the United States of America. It’s creating pressure for foreign governments, for example, in Central America that simply cannot host them. And it’s now adding pressure to our southwest border.

“Just to outline what is happening, traditionally Cubans come to the United States on rafts or on an airplane, on a visa, but now many are making the trip to Costa Rica or Honduras and then they’re working their way up through Central America, through Mexico and crossing our southern border. And it is my belief, and I think well-founded, based on much of the evidence we’ve now received in testimony and in newspaper articles, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, one of our newspapers based in Broward county, has extensively documented this and other abuses that are going on that a significant number of people are drawn to this country from Cuba because they know when they arrive they can step foot on dry land, they will immediately receive status and they immediately qualify for a package of federal benefits that no other immigrant group would qualify for unless they can prove they’re refugees.

“This current policy is not just being abused; it’s hurting the American taxpayers. There are reports that indicate that financial support for Cuban immigrants exceeds $680 million in the year 2014 alone, and those numbers, by the way, have quite frankly grown only since then.

“On top of the fundamental and fairness of the policy, recent reports in the media indicate that there is gross abuse of this policy. In Florida we are now hearing many stories of individuals coming to this country and claiming their benefits regularly and repeatedly returning back to Cuba. In essence the country you’re supposed to be fleeing because you fear for your life and your freedom. if you are a refugee, that means you’re seeking refuge. It’s difficult to justify someone’s refugee status when after arriving in the United States at the are traveling back to the place they are quote/unquote fleeing from 10, 15,20, 30  times a year. By the way this places the Cuban adjustment act in particular danger. That’s a separate topic, not dealt with in my amendment, and one that I have said publicly perhaps should be re-examined and adjusted to the new realities that we now face. But I’m not dealing with that right now. We are dealing with the benefits portion of this. And it is difficult to justify refugee benefits for people that are arriving to the United States and are immediately traveling repeatedly back to the nation they claim to be fleeing.

“Others that are immediately traveling back to the island are actually staying there. so let me paint the picture for you. You come from Cuba on the Cuban Adjustment Act, you arrive in the United States because you crossed the southwest border with Mexico or you landed on a raft on a beach somewhere in Florida. You claim your status as a Cuban refugee and less than a year later or year later you travel back to Cuba and you stay there for weeks or months at a time. But because you qualify for federal refugee benefits, you are receiving benefits from the federal government but you are living in Cuba. And how this practically works is, while you are living in Cuba, relatives or friends in America are getting hold of your benefits. They’re mailed to you or direct deposited and then they’re making sure you get that money to subsidize your lifestyle. So I can tell you today unequivocally that there are people living basically permanently on the island of Cuba with occasional visits back to the United States who are living a lifestyle that is being subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer because of this abuse.

“Now this practice, quite frankly, is illegal under current law, but the responsible agencies seem to have failed to enforce this law. And so I have offered an amendment to this bill that puts an end to this abuse and puts an end to the unfairness of the existing law. And all my amendment would do is it would simply require those who come from Cuba that would still be able, under the Cuban Adjustment Act, to receive permanent status into the united states but they’re going to be treated like every other immigrant and they are going to be ineligible for most federal benefit programs for five years unless they can demonstrate and prove that they qualify for refugee status.

“So let me paint a picture of what that would look like. If you come from Cuba and you can prove that you are fleeing oppression, that you are involved politically, that you are a dissident, that you are someone who the government is persecuting, then you are a refugee and you will be treated like a refugee and you will qualify for refugee benefits. But if you simply arrive from Cuba because you’re seeking a better life for yourself from an economic standpoint, you will still be able to benefit from the Cuban Adjustment Act and that status but you will not qualify for federal benefits. You will be treated like any other immigrant who comes to the United States. And we should be clear that the Castro regime does indeed repress hundreds of people every week. So there’s no question that there are many that still come here from Cuba who are refugees and are fleeing persecution. There is no doubt that there are people that will arrive this month and this year from Cuba that have left Cuba because they are being politically persecuted. There is no doubt about that. So we are not talking about excluding them. They will be able to prove that they are refugees and they will be able to qualify for refugee benefits. But while it is clear that there are still many people facing persecution in Cuba and fleeing, it is also clear that this is not everyone that is coming from Cuba.

“And so all this amendment would simply do is bring parity between Cuban refugees and every other refugee. And I say this to you as someone whose parents came from Cuba. And I propose this amendment as someone who lives in a community where Cuban Americans comprise a significant plurality of the population. And I see firsthand these abuses that are occurring, and it is not fair to the American taxpayer, and it is costing us money and, quite frankly, it is encouraging people to come here to take advantage of this program. So by passing this amendment, if we pass it, Congress will not only save taxpayers millions of dollars, but I believe it will also help minimize the increase we have seen in migration of Cubans over the last couple of years. By weeding out bad actors who only come to the U.S. in search of government benefits that they can take advantage of for the first five years that they are here. I believe this is responsible. I believe that this is the right approach for our nation both fiscally but also from an immigration standpoint.

“And I hope that I can earn bipartisan support for passing this very sensible proposal, and I encourage my colleagues to go on the website of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a newspaper in South Florida, and you will see that they have extensively documented not just these abuses but a series of other abuses that are occurring as well as part of this overall program and so it is my hope that I can earn the support of my colleagues to convert this idea into law.

“And with that, Madam President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.”