07/09/2013 04:06 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2013

Now It Is Not the Time to Change the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act

In 2009, in an interview with a TV station in Naples, Florida, Mario Diaz-Balart compared Cuban Americans traveling to see their relatives in Cuba with unscrupulous businessmen in deals with the Nazis during the Holocaust. Mr. Diaz-Balart's unfortunate historical analogy began a constant four-year barrage against the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act by Cuban-American legislators who claim it is misused by a significant segment of the Cuban American Community. After April 2009, their constituents took advantage of President Obama's more flexible travel regulations and have gone to Cuba in numbers above 300,000 visits per year. Obviously this flow of visitors defeats the purpose of the travel ban against the rest of the Americans defended by Congressman Diaz-Balart, Senator Marco Rubio and others: the same community that supposed to elect them to ban travel to Cuba is voting with their feet against the prohibition.

Now, Senator Rubio, who confessed that the Cuban Adjustment Act never came up in the discussion of the Immigration Reform law, is attracting negative press against a legislation that it is particularly convenient to the same constituents he is supposed to represent. He is the one bringing the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act to the headlines. "I am telling you," Rubio said, according to the Tampa Bay Times, "it gets very difficult to justify someone's status as an exile and refugee when a year and a half after they get here, they are flying back to that country over and over again."

The Cuban government has denounced the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act for decades as a "murderous" policy and has unilaterally blamed it for the migration of thousands of Cubans to Florida, ignoring the push factors that prompt them to leave their country. But this rhetoric has never had any effect on American policymakers. Since 1966, no bill has ever come close to passing in Congress that would end the Cuban Adjustment Act. The law gives the benefit of legal residence to most Cubans who came to the United States in search of the economic and political rights they didn't have in their country.

The statute has benefited the United States with an influx of mostly educated Cuban immigrants, who have relatives in the United States helping them to have a smooth landing in their newly adopted country. Most Cuban immigrants do not hold hostile feelings towards American society. Cubans also value American liberties and do not have antagonistic views against the liberal principles of American democracy.

But the fact that many of these Cubans disagree with Castro doesn't mean they agree with the U.S. embargo against Cuba that treats everybody there, including their relatives on the island and the emerging private sector, as an "enemy of the United States." They are voting with their feet against the travel ban and the asphyxiation strategy against Cuba condensed in the Helms-Burton Act. This has angered Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Robert Menendez, who have made their political career out of defending the policy of property claims, and political revenge.

The Cuban American legislators are trying to scare the Cuban American community by saying that because Cubans are visiting their relatives on the island without any limitations, the Cuban Adjustment Act is in peril. That is simply not true. Since 1978, when Cuban Americans began to visit their country of origin, hundreds of thousands have visited the island and neither party in Congress (Republican or Democrat) have tried to end the Cuban Adjustment Act and no president wasted any time trying to do so. Not a single bill amending or ending 15 Cuban Adjustment Act has passed a committee of any chamber of Congress in the last fifteen years.

Let's call the circus what it is. The only danger to the Cuban Adjustment Act is Marco Rubio, and Mario Diaz-Balart's reckless rhetoric about the Act.

The two Cuban American legislators are attracting attention to a 1966 Act that no other member of Congress cares about. By opening a congressional debate about the statute, they have become the disease they pretend to cure. Representative Diaz-Balart and Senator Rubio are using a hypothetical abrogation of the Act to scare their constituents, blaming the Obama administration for creating dynamics that they claim endanger Cuban opportunities to immigrate to the United States. This is absolutely false. They, and not the Obama administration, are the only ones playing rhetorical games and even introducing legislation to end, totally or partially, the possibilities for Cubans to benefit from the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.

The Cuban American right is trying to delay inevitable demographic changes in their districts. Rubio and Diaz-Balart realize that many of the people currently coming from Cuba will not vote for them after naturalization. That is why they are playing Cuban parochial politics with U.S. national interest. The changes sped up after Raul Castro's government ended the exit visa requirement and allowed more Cubans to travel abroad, particularly to the United States. This is good for Cuba and U.S. interests in the island because it opens the Cuban population to more influence and contacts with American society and democratic values. But Diaz-Balart and Rubio don't like it because it undermines the logic of the embargo and their desire to undermine the Cuban government through isolation. They want to end the Cuban Adjustment Act in practice, and blame it on Obama's liberation of family travel.

The Cuban Adjustment Act is about adjusting the status of Cuban immigrants living in the United States, a great nation committed to family values. The presence of a large Cuban community in the United States is the result in part of American policy towards Fidel Castro's government. Many Cubans came to the United States because they were welcome here. Now this situation created consequences about family and societal links that any responsible policy should not affect abruptly. Cuban Americans do not have any responsibility whatsoever to forget about their relatives on the island, to not visit them, or to not do all we can for them. It is just and humane for Cubans to receive the benefits of the Cuban Adjustment Act while being free to travel to support our families. As former Attorney General Robert Kennedy wrote to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, just two months after his brother was assassinated, the travel ban is "inconsistent with traditional American liberties."

Democrats in South Florida such as Representative Joe Garcia and Kathy Castor should not let the enemies of the Cuban Adjustment Act scare their constituents with lies. They should ask the White House to make a clear declaration of support for the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act and the intention of the president to veto any bill that includes a revocation or amendment of the statute. It is a matter of demography and good politics; the composition of the Cuban American community is changing. The new waves of immigrants from Cuba like to travel to the island and support their relatives there. This higher contact between the two societies helps to erode the Cold War confrontational images guiding the current embargo policy and reinforce the advantages of a different policy of engagement. The pro-embargo legislators have the watches but the new Cuban-Americans, with permanent links with the island, have the time.

There will be a time to deal with the Cuban Adjustment Act and normalize American immigration standards towards Cuba. This time is not now. The statute should remain as it is, expanding travel between Havana and Miami, helping the process of marketization and openness that is taking place in the island. It simply serves the best interests of the peoples of Cuba and the United States.