The immigration tangle; US argues over pros, cons of refugee flood

As the flow of unscreened Cubans continues to the United States despite President Carter's efforts to halt it, many Americans are concerned -- some even resentful -- about the burden the refugees will pose on this country.

But resettlement officials, Cuban-American leaders, and refugees indicate the long-range burden may be less than is generally believed.

An eagerness on the part of the refugees to do whatever kind of work they can find and extensive help from the Cuban-American community nationwide are expected to minimize federal support costs for the refugees. In spite of high unemployment in many parts of the country, it is believed there are many low-paying, unpopular (to most Americans) jobs available that the newly arrived Cubans will gladly accept.

Concern about the burden of the refugees is growing as their numbers increase. That number had passed 60,000 by May 20.

Fourteen Cubans drowned earlier this week when their overcrowded boat capsized on the way to the US; 38 were rescued by the Coast Guard.

A poll just completed for Newsweek magazine shows approximately six out 10 Americans think the overall impact of the refugees on this country will be negative.Here in Florida, arrival point for the Cubans, some signs of resentment are emerging.

The Miami Herald recently polled Miamians, asking them about the effect the new refugees would have on the community: 68 percent of the non-Latin whites, 57 percent of the blacks, and 14 percent of the Latins questioned said the refugees would have a "largely negative impact" on the community.

In Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where some 10,000 Cuban refugees are being held temporarily in one of the refugee camps now set up in several states, one social activist says that some longtime residents are complaining about the millions of tax dollars being used to resettle the Cubans. A recent Ku Klux Klan rally in the area tried to fan such concerns into calls to return the refugees to Cuba.

In Miami Beach, part of the area where many of the refugees are likely to settle, a young Anglo hotel clerk says he is worried about Cubans taking jobs. And the manager of the same hotel says three black Cubans barged into his office , after only four days in the US, demanding work.

There is resentment toward the refugees, said Eduardo J. Padron, head of the Spanish-American League Against Discrimination here.But, he adds, the more people know about the Cubans and the Cuban community, the less resentment there is likely to be.

That short-term resettlement costs will be at least tens of millions of dollars is evident from preliminary federal figures. And a Dade County (which includes Miami) school superintendent estimates he would need $25 million in additional revenues if some 15,000 new Cuban refugee children enter the system next year.

But there are these positive points regarding the long-range costs:

1. Cuban immigrants have a reputation as hard workers. Some of the new refugees are already working; those interviewed in a refugee camp in northern Florida are anxious to begin work.

2. Many of the Cubans have some kind of job skill. But they say they are willing to accept whatever kind of work is available.

Among refugees already at work are three waiters in a Miami hotel. Near Ft. Chaffee, Ark., site of another refugee camp, chicken processors are calling the camp asking for Cubans to come work, says Michael M. Pszyk Jr., director of the Church World Service refugee program.

3. The Cuban community has already pitched in by raising $3 million for resettlement costs and by offering jobs and sponsorships of the refugees.

"They [the Cuban refugees] would be expected to fare better than the Vietnamese refugees coming to the US, because many have friends and relatives here, says Derek Schoen, spokesmen for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Some 43 percent of the Indochinese refugees receive some form of welfare (not including food stamps), he added.

All but about 15 percent of the Cuban refugees have at least a distant relative in the US, and about 25 percent have an immediate relative, federal officials here report.

The ORR very tentatively estimates the average cost in federal assistance per Cuban refugee at only $1,200, Mr. Schoen says. This includes unemployment compensation and welfare, he says.

Nationally, however, the US paid $32 million in assistance during fiscal 1979 for Cuban refugees among the several hundred thousand who have arrived since 1965.

Support costs for the new Cuban arrivals may be held down somewhat by the fact that less then 5 percent of the Cubans are over age 65 and only about 12 percent are under 10, according to preliminary federal statistics.

But in the long-run, it is the industriousness of the Cubans themselves -- seen in the economic success story earlier Cuban refugees here have established -- that is counted on to have the most positive impact.

"The Cubans have had a good track record of being hard working," says Mr. Padron, who also is dean of Miami-Dade Community College.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.