VIDEO: On Senate Floor, Rubio Touts $2.5 Billion Savings By Ending Abuse Of Cuban Refugee Welfare Benefits
May 25 2016
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today renewed his push to end the widespread abuse of Cuban refugee welfare benefits, following the U.S. Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) preliminary projection that his Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act would save taxpayers approximately $2.5 billion over the next 10 years. Rubio introduced the Senate version of this bill (S. 1441), while Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) is leading the effort in the House (H.R. 4247).
“Today we learned from the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzes these issues in depth and determines how much they actually cost taxpayers, we learned that the long-term cost of this abuse over the course of the next ten years is approximately $2.5 billion of American taxpayer money,” said Rubio. “That is $2.5 billion, much of which, a significant percentage of which, is going to people that aren't even living in the United States.
“I’m hopeful that today's report from the Congressional Budget Office will give us renewed momentum to end this problem and reform the system,” Rubio continued. “The way to do it is by passing a law that I’ve introduced with Congressman Carlos Curbelo in the House that ends the automatic assumption in U.S. law that all Cuban immigrants are refugees, and says that in order to receive refugee benefits they have to prove that they’re refugees who are legitimately fearing for their lives if they were to return to Cuba.”
Earlier today, Curbelo issued a statement saying, “For too long, America’s generosity has been abused, and this projection from the Congressional Budget Office underscores the importance of getting the Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act passed as soon as possible. I would like to thank my House colleagues from both parties who have cosponsored this legislation and Senator Rubio who has been leading the charge in the Senate. Together we will make sure our country continues being a place of refuge and safety for the victims of Castro's persecution while doing right by American taxpayers.”
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Floor Speech
May 25, 2016
Senator Marco Rubio: “I came to the floor a few weeks ago to bring to the attention an abuse that's occurring in our welfare system, and it involves Cuban immigration.
“In sum, let me describe it, the situation we face today. If an immigrant comes to the United States from Cuba legally, entering the United States from another country, let me rephrase that. If an immigrant legally enters the United States from any country in the world except for Cuba or Haiti, they cannot immediately receive federal benefits.
“If you are a legal immigrant -- you did your paperwork, you filled it out, you paid the fees and you come to the United States from Venezuela, you come to the United States from Mexico, you come to the United States from Japan, you're here legally but you do not qualify for any federal benefits for the first five years that you're in this country.
“There's an exception, however. There’s an exception for people that come from Cuba. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, anyone who comes from Cuba legally or illegally, if you cross the border and say ‘I’m a Cuban,’ you are immediately accepted into the United States legally. And I’m not here today to talk about changing that status, even though we have a significant migratory crisis that’s building and I do think that issue needs to be reexamined.
“But here's the exception to the law. If you come to the United States from Cuba, whether you entered across the border or you entered on a visa, you are one of the only immigrants in America that immediately, automatically qualifies for federal benefits right away. You don't have to prove that you're a refugee, you don't have to prove that you're fleeing oppression, you don't have to prove anything. You are automatically assumed to be a political refugee and given, not just status in the United States, but the run of a series of public benefits. So for decades this has been because U.S. law made the presumption that if you are leaving Cuba to come to the United States, you are obviously a refugee.
“I believe for a lot of people that are still coming that's true. Because they're fleeing a horrible and repressive regime and they have nowhere else to go because they fear for their life in many cases in Cuba. But for some time now, there's been growing doubt about whether all the people that are now coming from Cuba are in fact fleeing oppression, or have they really become increasingly more like an economic refugee.
“And so we know now from what we see in South Florida with our own eyes, but also from the investigative reporting of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, that there are growing abuses to this. The reason why is because many people that are coming from Cuba supposedly as refugees seeking to flee oppression are now traveling back to Cuba, 15, 20, 30 times a year. So that right away raises alarm.
“If you are entering the United States, if you are immediately and automatically given status as refugees and in addition to that, being given access to a full portfolio of federal benefits, that's being done because you're supposedly fleeing oppression. But then you're traveling back to Cuba 15, 20 or 30 times a year in many cases, it puts in serious doubt whether everyone that's now coming should be considered refugees for purposes of benefits.
“But today they are. And so even at this very moment we are seeing an historic increase in the number of people crossing the Mexico-U.S. border who are originally from Cuba. We have seen an increase in the number of rafters. Just a week ago, there was a standoff between the Coast Guard and some Cuban migrants who went up to a lighthouse and wouldn't come down because they wanted to get the status under the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy.
“I think we can debate that issue. I am not here today to propose changes to the status, but I do think we have to ask ourselves, ‘What about the federal benefits? What about the benefits that they're collecting which are specifically and exclusively intended for refugees and refugees only?’ Because obviously if you're traveling back to Cuba over and over again, you're not a refugee, and therefore, you should not be eligible for these benefits.
“The abuses we've now seen are extensive. The stories of people that are actually living in Cuba, they're
living in Cuba but they're collecting government benefits in America and their family is wiring the money to them. People that are collecting an assortment of benefits from housing to cash and the money is being sent to them while they live in Cuba for months, sometimes years at a time. It’s an outrage, it's an abuse.
“By the way, I’m of Cuban descent [from] a community with a large number of Cuban exiles and Cuban migrants that live there, and our own people there in South Florida are saying that this is an outrage. They see this abuse. It’s their taxpayer money and they want something done about it.
“Today we learned from the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzes these issues in depth and determines how much they actually cost taxpayers, we learned that the long-term cost of this abuse over the course of the next ten years is approximately $2.5 billion of American taxpayer money. That is $2.5 billion, much of which, a significant percentage of which, is going to people that aren't even living in the United States. It's money that we know from investigations, [often ends back in Cuba.] What we've seen people [do to] abuse the system over and over again is they figure out a relative in the U.S. that goes to the bank every month, takes a cut and sends the rest to them.
“That’s your money that's being sent. The American people are generous people, but right now those who abuse the system are taking American taxpayers for fools and we need to stop this. And that's why I’m hopeful that today's report from the Congressional Budget Office will give us renewed momentum to end this problem and reform the system. The way to do it is by passing a law that I’ve introduced with Congressman Carlos Curbelo in the House that ends the automatic assumption in U.S. law that all Cuban immigrants are refugees, and says that in order to receive refugee benefits they have to prove that they’re refugees who are legitimately fearing for their lives if they were to return to Cuba.
“So how the process would work is, if you cross the U.S.-Mexico border and you're from Cuba or if you arrive on a raft you get your status, you'll be legal in this country. But you're going to have to prove that you are actually coming because you fear persecution before you automatically qualify for refugee benefits. In essence, all I’m asking is that people prove they are refugees, political refugees, before they qualify for federal benefits that are only available to political refugees.
“Now lest anyone think this is some sort of partisan trick, this is a bipartisan measure that my Democratic colleague from Florida supports, the senior senator from Florida, that has over 50 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, including the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. So I hope we can get this done even if the best way to do it is on its own merits with a straight up-or-down vote or as an amendment included in a larger bill. With all the talk about paying for Zika virus funding, maybe this is one of the ways we can pay for some of that. But let's get it done.
“$2.5 billion is still real money, real taxpayer money, a significant percentage of which is being misspent on a loophole that exists in the law that most people don't even know is there. And i truly hope that we can address it. It makes all the sense in the world, everyone is asking for it, there is no good faith or reasonable reason to oppose it. It is my hope that we can address it before this congress adjourns at the end of this year, sooner if that's possible, and that we can put an end to these abuses once and for all.”