Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – During a press conference in Miami today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) reiterated his call for ending the widespread abuse of Cuban refugee benefits, which the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) preliminary estimate says will cost taxpayers at least $2.45 billion over the next 10 years.

Rubio is the lead Senate sponsor of S. 2441, the Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act, which would end automatic eligibility for welfare and refugee resettlement benefits for all Cuban immigrants, unless they can prove they are were actually persecuted. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL-26) is the lead sponsor in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I am telling you it is very difficult to justify to my colleagues why Cubans have a special status when a large majority of them, within a year of being here, are traveling back to Cuba regularly, sometimes months at a time,” said Rubio.

“Related to this issue is the work we’ve done on the benefits,” Rubio continued. “Cubans, when they arrive, are the only refugee group that receive automatic refugee status, the only migrant group that receives automatic refugee status entitling them to a series of federal benefits that often exceed what someone who has worked in this country for 30 years receives.

“The [bill] that Congressman Curbelo and I support doesn’t take benefits away from anyone. All it says is you will no longer automatically qualify for federal benefits. When you come from Cuba you have to prove that you were personally persecuted on the island, and then you will be treated as a refugee,” Rubio concluded.

Below is a partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks:

Senator Marco Rubio: “People ask about the Cuban Adjustment Act and the ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy. I think the law needs to be revisited. I was with the Coast Guard about a month ago and they were telling me stories of migrants they’re picking up who are on the ships and they’re stabbing themselves because once they’re stabbed they have to be taken for medical treatment [at] a U.S. facility, they are on U.S. soil, and then they can appeal to the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“[There are] people swallowing lugnuts from the ships, or they swallow bleach, so that they can be taken to the hospital. Some are becoming violent in their interactions with the Coast Guard and resisting physically.

“In the case of the lighthouse folks that came, they had planned this out. My understanding, I may be wrong, my understanding is when they got to the lighthouse they immediately alerted the media, so they had planned this out in terms of what they were going to do. Guys, I understand the desperation, I do. But there’s got to be, as the Congressman just said, a better way to allow people who are facing persecution to come here.

“The other reality that I have said now repeatedly for years, is that it is very difficult to justify a special status for Cubans when a large number of Cubans come to the U.S. and within a year of coming, under the guise of political freedom, fleeing an oppressive government, they’re going back to Cuba 25 times a year. You don’t travel back 25 times a year to a place that you find to be repressive and that you’re being personally persecuted.

“I’m not saying there isn’t real persecution in Cuba, there absolutely is, and I’m not saying I don’t understand the argument – and by the way I’ve never criticized anyone who goes back to Cuba to see their dying mother or brother or sister or parent they haven’t seen in a long time. I leave that aside, I’m not criticizing that.

“I am telling you it is very difficult to justify to my colleagues why Cubans have a special status when a large majority of them, within a year of being here, are traveling back to Cuba regularly, sometimes months at a time.

“Related to this issue is the work we’ve done on the benefits. Cubans, when they arrive, are the only refugee group that receive automatic refugee status, the only migrant group that receives automatic refugee status entitling them to a series of federal benefits that often exceed what someone who has worked in this country for 30 years receives.

“The [bill] that Congressman Curbelo and I support doesn’t take benefits away from anyone. All it says is you will no longer automatically qualify for federal benefits. When you come from Cuba you have to prove that you were personally persecuted on the island, and then you will be treated as a refugee. I think that is a very reasonable position in light of some of the abuses that have been documented that are existing, and quite frankly over the next years will cost the American taxpayer $2.5 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office.”