January 14, 2000


Why Should Elián Be the Only One?

by Jacob G. Hornberger

At least the case of Elián González is helping to expose the hypocrisy of U.S. immigration policy. The INS says that the boy should be returned to Cuba so that he can be with his father. Republican presidential candidates and even Al Gore are expressing outrage, suggesting that the boy would be better off living in the United States than in communist Cuba.

Unfortunately, both the INS and the presidential candidates are being dishonest and disingenuous. How do we know this? Because we know what U.S. immigration policy is toward Cuba. It is a policy in which the U.S. government, working in close cooperation with Cuban authorities, forcibly repatriates Cuban refugees, including women and children, back into communist tyranny.

Recall what happened just a few months ago. The U.S. Coast Guard attacked a raft filled with Cuban refugees with water cannons and pepper spray. The Coast Guard was desperately attempting to take the Cubans into custody before they reached American shores so that the refugees could be forcibly returned to Cuba.

How many Cubans have been repatriated by U.S. authorities? Who knows? How many Americans care? Where is the outrage? Why has it all of a sudden surfaced with respect to a six-year old boy whose father remains in Cuba?

Of course, many people suggest that the boy's father, Juan Miguel González, ought to be permitted to come here to be with his child. Oh? Does this mean that Americans are now prepared to open U.S. immigration barriers and permit every Cuban father (and mother) with children to immigrate to the United States? After all, if we don't want Elián to suffer under communism, then why would we want any Cuban child to suffer under communism? For that matter, why would we want any Cuban, adult or child, who wishes to escape communism to suffer under communism?

Would Elián González be better off here without his father than in that communist paradise with his father? The truth is that no one - not even the boy himself - is likely to know which decision is the correct one. (Don't forget that Castro is now 73 years old and, therefore, that the situation in Cuba could change dramatically for the better in the near future.) What we do know — and what we should never forget — is that Elián González is in this fix primarily because of the Cuban and American governments' emigration and immigration policies.

Both governments have a strict, mutually enforced policy of prohibiting Cuban citizens from moving to the United States. In fact, just recently Cuban president Fidel Castro announced new measures to punish those who attempt to leave Cuba without permission. The United States government, on the other hand, prohibits the free entry of Cuban citizens into the United States. It also makes it illegal for anyone to assist a Cuban to enter our country.

If it had not been for the policies of these two governments, the probability is that Elián's mother, Elizabeth Brotón Rodríquez, and her boyfriend, Lázaro Munero García, both of whom were only 28 years old when they lost their lives at sea, would be alive today.

For if Cuba permitted the free emigration of its citizens, Elizabeth and Lazaro would probably have found safer means of transportation than a flimsy raft. And if the U.S. government had not made it a criminal offense to help Cuban refugees to enter the United States, there probably would have been flotillas of private boats in the Caribbean helping people who were escaping Cuba to enter the United States.

Elizabeth Brotón Rodríquez and Lázaro Munero García need not have died in vain. For they left behind a six-year boy who ended up on American shores with a father back in Cuba — a boy who has somehow aroused a deep emotional reaction against his forcible return into communist tyranny. Perhaps — just perhaps — Americans will extend their moral outrage to the repatriation of other Cuban citizens. Perhaps what has happened to Elián and his mother will finally cause Americans to force their own government to end its horrifically immoral policy of repatriation and force it to open our doors to the likes of Elizabeth, Lázaro, and Elián.

Mr. Hornberger is president of The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) in Fairfax, Va., and co-editor of The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration. He visited Cuba last year.

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