Q&A: what's behind deluge of Cubans coming to US

How many Cubans eventually will be admitted to the US during the current crisis? By the morning of May 8, 24, 195 Cubans had arrived. The rate has exceeded 4 ,000 a day since midweek. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States normally would accept 15,000 refugees this year from Cuba. But technically, says Verne Jervis of the INS, these are not refugees; they are asylum seekers. A refugee is so declared in the country of origin, or in a second country, but not in the country of destination -- i.e., the US. There is no limit on asylum seekers; therefore, the numbers will continue to increase until Cuban President Castro constrains the flow.

Wire reports from Havana say 16,000 more may be waiting to make the journey, but this is a very rough estimate. City of Miami Beach refugee-crisis coordinator Roland Rodriguez puts it this way: "In Havana now, so I hear, there is a saying, 'Meet you at Mariel [the port of departure].' If Castro leaves the door open, thousands more will come."

How long will the current exodus continue?

Apparently until President Castro calls a halt to it. "This is a situation without any control," says Mr. Jervis. US and Latin American diplomats currently are discussing the crisis at a 20-nation conference in Costa Rica. A State Department spokesman says one goal of the conference is to focus on Mr. Castro's humanitarian obligations, and thereby try to exert world pressure on him to control the situation.

Where will the latest flood of Cubans eventually settle?

Experience tells us that about half the Cubans who immigrated prior to the current influx have settled in the Miami area. The others went to large urban areas, such as Chicago, New York, New Jersey, and California.

Is the US government attempting to get any other nation to accept some of the refugees?

This is under discussion at the Costa Rican conference and also among diplomats in Latin American capitals, the State Department says. A congressional source advocates bringing the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in Geneva into the crisis to "internationalize resettlement."

Why do most Cuban exiles settle in the US?

"Most are coming this way [to Florida] because they know the United States is the land of opportunity," says Mr. Rodriguez. "About other countries, they are not so sure."

Who are the Cubans now entering the US? Professionals, blue-collar workers, farmers, rich, poor? How does the current group compare with earlier Cubans who came to the US?

While the INS has not yet determined the makeup of the arriving refugees, social workers on the scene say 95 percent appear to be city dwellers from Havana. As such, most are semi-skilled laborers. Almost all are without money.

Those who arrived in the 1960s after the revolution were a little better off. That group, as has often been noted, has produced many successful entrepreneurs. Dade County reports voter registration among Spanish-speaking residents is high.

One difference with this group, says Mr. Rodriguez, is that there are fewer families. Most of the arrivals are single men. This could cause pressure in the future to unite families now being scattered.

Why is Dr. Castro opening the way for so many Cubans to flee his country at this time?

Reports indicate he was forced by pride and circumstances to open the way, during the Peruvian Embassy situation. The response has been overwhelming. "With all the punative rhetoric going back and forth, Castro apparently decided to 'teach us a lesson,'" says a congressional source. "If we avoid awkwardness in receiving them, then Castro will get the lesson."

What problems could be created for the US if the number of refugees rises into the 100,000 to 400,000 range?

Under the Department of Health and Human Services' refugee resettlement assistance program, a bona fide refugee ends up costing taxpayers about $3,200 to resettle. As mentioned earlier, the Cubans are not yet classified refugees.

The INS is on the docks in Florida, at the Eglin Air Force Base tent city, and soon will be with refugees flown to Ft. Chaffee, Ark., trying to interview the arrivals. Normally, a case-by-case evaluation would determine who could be classified as a refugee. But this time the numbers are so great, and the situation so fluid, that the process may take months.

The resettlement assistance program handles 168,000 Indochinese and 50,000 Cubans, Soviet Jews, and others a year. If the Cubans don't exceed 30,000 or so , money could come from the on-going funds. Otherwise, it may take a supplemental appropriation from Congress.

"Remember, this is happening at a time of high unemployment, inflation, recession, etc.," says a social agency official. "The more refugees, the greater the economic squeeze on them and on groups they might be competing with for jobs and assistance."

How many of the Cubans now entering the US are technically "illegal aliens?" If their entry is illegal, why isn't the law being enforced? Does the administration have the option to just ignore the law?

All of the Cubans are technically "illegal aliens," says Mr. Jervis of the INS. But unlike Mexican illegals, the Cubans are coming from a hostile country, and there is strong reason to believe they will be persecuted if sent back. Thus, the INS description of them as asylum seekers.

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