Commentary: GOP is making immigrants political exiles

The Miami HeraldMay 20, 2010 

Hi little girl, is your daddy home?

No, he's working, I said from the half-opened door in the apartment by the Miami River as my mom tried to intercede.

Too late. I had sealed my father's fate. Back he went to Cuba. Deported!

He was able to return months later, legally. He got into trouble with U.S. immigration because he had come to Miami on a tourist visa just nine months after Fidel Castro's revolution triumphed. Seeing things had gotten worse in Cuba, he was buying cars at auction in West Palm Beach, fixing them and selling cars in Miami to feed us. A neighbor must have snitched.

For this proud small-businessman/entrepreneur -- I take liberties, he drove his own taxi to take American tourists around Havana and bought cars here to ferry to Cuba to sell -- the firing squads that first year of the revolution weren't too good for tourism. Or car sales.

I was just a 4-year-old without a clue. But today, when I hear a Cuban American bash undocumented immigrants I cringe and talk back. Yes, we were political exiles -- not immigrants looking for a job. But guess what? We needed jobs to survive, and we weren't exactly welcome here in the early years.

In that first year the U.S. government wasn't offering asylum for taxi drivers or school teachers. (My mother was able to stay here because she was a teacher who left on a student visa to learn English.)

I share this personal moment because it aches to see what's happening in Arizona and throughout much of the nation, including Florida where GOP politicians will say anything to earn "whitey" points with Tea Party voters. It's sad to see Sen. John McCain, once a true statesman who pushed for immigration reform, virtually join the Minute Men in a desperate attempt to get reelected. Never mind that more people are being caught on the border and that fewer are coming in.

Then there's U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio, son of Cuban exiles, and Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, running for governor. Both Republicans have retreated from their initial opposition to Arizona's new "show me your papers" law because, they claim, it was fixed to ban racial/ethnic profiling.

You know, the walking-while-brown legal challenge.

I'm not saying our borders shouldn't be protected. And let's not get into Mexico's own immigration laws — ask any Cuban rafter or Honduran migrant who has been deported from Mexico back to their living hell. I realize, too, that Arizona is suffering from the drug wars that Mexican cartels have brought on the border states. But the vast majority of the 10 million undocumented immigrants in this country aren't killers, rapists or drug dealers.

They're the folks who grow our food, wash our cars, care for our kids, fix our gardens and clean dead chickens and cattle so we can eat them. Remove them from a country where the workforce is aging, where Baby Boomers are starting to retire and see just how much our food, for starters, is going to cost.

To read the complete column, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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