As a 70-year old humanitarian organization representing 37 Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox communions and 33 refugee resettlement offices across the United States, Church World Service (CWS) urges all members of Congress to oppose the “Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2016” (S.2441) and the “Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2015” (H.R.4247). Both of these bills would deny important integration services to Cubans rebuilding their lives in the United States. We know from sacred texts across faith traditions that we all have a moral responsibility to welcome the most vulnerable: the widow, the orphan, the refugee, during trying times.
Each year, thousands of refugees, including Cubans and Haitians, enter the United States seeking an opportunity to find safety and peace. The Cuban Haitian Entrant Program is part of a decades-old effort to provide U.S. assistance for Cubans and Haitians fleeing their countries. This federal program is administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USCIS/DHS). It is designed to receive, process, and serve Cubans and Haitians, to help them integrate and thrive. Since its inception, the program has helped countless individuals find safety, including during crises such as the Cuban Freedom Flights, Camarioca Exodus, Mariel Boat Lift, and Cuban Guantanamo Crisis. Even today, thousands of people enter the United States through the Cuban Haitian Entrant Program each year, are welcomed by their new communities, and begin integrating and giving back to the United States.
The Cuban Haitian Entrant Program has provided resettlement services to thousands of Cubans and Haitians yearly. The main goal of the program is to resettle these individuals with minimal impact to local cities and municipalities, as well as assist them in becoming self-sufficient by 180 days after arrival in the United States, by providing extensive liaison and coordination with state and local government officials, as well as DHS. For the past ten years, CWS, along with its affiliate network, has maintained a self-sufficiency rate of 95% for program entrants at their 180-day reporting period.
S.2441/H.R.4247 would dismantle one of the foundations of preeminent U.S. refugee law by eliminating Cubans’ eligibility to receive refugee assistance under the Cuban Haitian Entrant Program. As a result, these bills would have disastrous consequences for Cubans who are seeking refuge in the United States. This legislation purports to place Cubans on a level playing field with other immigrants entering the United States. In reality, however, it would divert Cubans to other countries and undermine the U.S. government as a leader in refugee protection. This legislation would separate families and jeopardize Cubans’ reunification with generations of families already integrated into U.S. communities. It would also undermine the United States’ leadership in refugee protection and in welcoming and protecting our neighbors.
The Cuban Haitian Entrant Program is located in several communities across the country to provide reception and resettlement services to newly arrived Cubans and Haitians. These newcomers receive assistance from resettlement agencies just like other refugees from around the world. Champions for S.2441/H.R.4247 wrongfully claim that Cubans in the program abuse federal benefits and waste taxpayer dollars. This claim is simply false, as refugees are thoroughly vetted by DHS. Cutting off access to these services jeopardizes Cubans’ ability to reach safety and achieve self-sufficiency.
Cubans will continue to find a way to come to the United States. Without this program to provide resettlement services, communities that welcome Cubans would lack important services designed to help Cubans thrive as they rebuild their lives. From the moment they arrive, individuals would be on their own in finding housing, schooling, employment and most importantly, medical assistance. The costs of eliminating this program would result in a major economic impact on many states that currently receive Cuban entrants. In Southern Florida in particular, many CWS staff members are themselves refugees from Cuba, Haiti, Colombia, and elsewhere, and many of them are now naturalized U.S. citizens. They understand the difficulties faced by arriving refugees, just as they faced these difficulties themselves, and validate the need for these important services.
The Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act (S.2441/H.R.4247) dishonors our country’s shared humanity and disrespects our nation’s legacy of protecting and welcoming refugees from around the world. CWS urges all members of Congress to oppose S.2441/H.R.4247 and any proposal that would eliminate or reduce access to protection for Cuban refugees. Let us reflect the best of our nation by extending hospitality and leading by example so that other nations do the same.