Cubans would continue to be eligible for green cards and government benefits after living a year in the U.S. under immigration reform legislation backed by President Trump, experts say.
The RAISE Act endorsed Wednesday by Trump proposes reforming the green card acquisition process, imposing an English language test and making job skills and earning potential gateways to permanent residence. It would throttle "chain migration" by limiting sponsorship for spouses and minor children.
Trump said in remarks that the bill would ensure that immigrants speak English and not be a burden on taxpayers.
"This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy," Trump said. "They're not going to come in and just immediately go and collect welfare. That doesn't happen under the RAISE Act. They can't do that."
But it appears that for Cubans who make it to the U.S., green cards still would be available after a year of residency under a 1966 law called the Cuban Adjustment Act.
Some Cubans return to the authoritarian island and collect their U.S. government benefits there, including disability payments and other forms of social welfare, leading to calls to reform the law, including from GOP lawmakers such as Cuban-American Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida.
Experts say the RAISE Act does not appear to alter the longstanding privileges.
Juan Carlos Gómez, director of the Carlos A. Costa Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at Florida International University's law school, says the bill would affect Cubans who remain on the island and apply to join their families in the U.S., but not those who arrive in the U.S. on a visa and then remain in the country a year.
Gómez says although the bill does not alter historical privileges, he views it as an "anti-family" measure that's unnecessary.
Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law expert who teaches at Cornell University, says after a "quick skim" of the bill, it doesn't appear the Cuban Adjustment Act policy would be affected. He points out Cubans also could apply under the points system proposed by the bill.
"The RAISE Act would in no way change the preferential treatment Cubans currently enjoy under our immigration laws," says David Ray, communications director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that advocates reducing immigration. Robert Law, FAIR's government relations director, agrees.
The CAA "gives Cubans a special path to a green card that is completely untouched by what this bill does," Law says.
It's unclear why the legislation does not seek to address the special circumstances of Cuban immigration. But speaking to reporters on the White House grounds, the Senate bill's two Republican sponsors presented the bill as deliberately limited in scope.
Sponsoring Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia did not directly address the issue of Cuban immigration during a question and answer session with reporters outside the White House's West Wing.
Spokespeople for Cotton and Perdue were not able to immediately provide comment, nor was a White House spokesperson.