THE BLOG
09/02/2014 09:06 am ET Updated Oct 18, 2014

Crisis on the Mexican Border; or, Raise Your Hand If You Can Play Baseball

As Garrett Morris (a.k.a. Chico Escuela) often opined on SNL: "Baseball... been berra berra good... to me." It's not clear if Chico Escuela was Cuban or not, but, regardless, no fewer than 73 baseball players who have defected from Cuba between 1993 and 2013 to come to the US to, well, play baseball.

One can make the argument that they wanted to leave Cuba for political reasons (though Olympic champion boxer, Teofilo Stevenson, and sprinter, Alberto Juantorena never did), but if that were the case then one would be sadly mistaken. What becomes patently apparent is that the United States (at least many of its congressmen) has a double standard for those wishing to escape political/physical persecution from Cuba versus other parts of Latin America. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services these are the circumstances that one would be eligible for asylum in the US that include, but may not be limited to:

Changes in conditions in your country of nationality or, if you are stateless, your country of last habitual residence--
Changes in your circumstances that materially affect your eligibility for asylum, including changes in applicable U.S. law and activities you become involved in outside the country of feared persecution that place you at risk--
If you were previously included as a dependent in someone else's pending asylum application, the loss of the spousal or parent-child relationship to the principal applicant through marriage, divorce, death, or attainment of age 21--
Extraordinary circumstances may include but are not limited to:
Serious illness or mental or physical disability, including any effects of persecution or violent harm suffered in the past, during the 1-year period after your arrival in the U.S.
Legal disability, such as your status as an unaccompanied minor or you suffered from a mental impairment, during the 1-year period after your arrival in the U.S.

As I read those conditions, I don't see anything that would necessarily apply to Cuban ballplayers who want to defect to the United States. What is clearly apparent, however, is the phrase "but may not be limited to." In other words, if one is a brilliant baseball player (e.g. Yasiel Puig, José Abreu, Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Céspedes, among many others) then that might fall under the "but may not be limited to" category in order to qualify for political asylum. That is to say, there are no people picketing outside Miami's Department of Homeland Security at 11226 NW 20th Street demanding that all or any of those ballplayers be sent back to Cuba (e.g. José D. Fernández who plays for the Miami Marlins or Yunel Escobar who plays for the Tampa Bay Rays).

In an April 26, 2014 Fox.com piece titled, "Florida lawmakers push to change MLB Cuban player policy" an Associated Press release stated:

With the exception of Canada, residents of foreign nations can negotiate with all 30 baseball teams before signing a contract, but teams aren't allowed to negotiate with Cuban players if they remain in that country because of the U.S. embargo of the communist island. And Cuban players are subject to the amateur draft if they come directly to the U.S., potentially costing them tens of millions of dollars. That's why Cuban players seek to establish residency in a third country first, often at great risk.

"Vote for this bill for every young boy in Cuba that wants a fair chance to come to this country and play baseball without having to be forced into the arms of human traffickers, smugglers and drug cartels," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar. "That's more important to me, frankly, than what stadium gets built."

Details of Puig's escape from Cuba were revealed recently in a lawsuit that described a dangerous journey, dealings with shady characters and Puig and a Cuban boxer being held hostage over unpaid smuggling debts. Puig, boxer Yunior Despaigne and their families have continued to receive death threats and one of the men who smuggled them out of Cuba was shot dead in Mexico, according to a story first reported in Los Angeles Magazine.

I don't discount the narrative about Puig's journey to the United States, which is documented in an April 20, 2014 article in the Miami Herald: "From Cuba to the majors: Yasiel Puig's harrowing story"; however, I don't believe it was any more harrowing an experience for him than it must be for an 8-year old traveling alone from Honduras to the Mexican border aboard the "Death Train." Apparently, for Rep. Matt Gaetz, getting Cuban ballplayers into the United States and, eventually, to the Major Leagues, is clearly more important than trying to getting non-ballplayers into the United States.

What's patently clear is that the Cuban threat, real or imagined, is significantly more "valuable" in terms of human commodity than the real threat to children coming from Central America. What makes all of this so ironic is that the Cuban embargo (which even conservative Jeff Flake has been trying to eliminate) is seemingly less important than the non-embargo the US has with any other Latin American country when it comes to potential major league baseball players. In that sense, Chico Esquela is absolutely right.