From the Vault: Cuban Immigrants, 1994
By David Henderson
In going through some articles this weekend, I found the following, reprinted in full. It’s titled, “Cubans Want Freedom, Not Welfare” and was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 30, 1994. The Chicago Tribune published an almost-identical version around the same time. It’s still relevant today:
Start with two principles. First, no one has the right to force us to pay for immigrants to the United States. Second, no one has the right to prevent people from escaping tyranny. Any just system of laws must adhere to these principles. The principles do not contradict each other. But the defenders of the welfare state have forced us to choose between them. In doing so, they have shown how truly corrupt the welfare state is.
What makes responsible Cubans risk their lives and their children’s by crossing the ocean in fragile rafts? Did they just hear about our food stamps and generous unemployment benefits? Hardly. Those aren’t worth risking life and limb.
So what do Cubans want? One thing. Freedom. The freedom to live in a relatively peaceful society where it is not (yet) a crime to work to feed one’s family. The vast majority of our ancestors who immigrated to the United States got no welfare when they arrived here. It’s not what they came for. It’s not what the vast majority of Cubans want either.
But, some say, people leaving Cuba want just to escape poverty, not communism. How could we tell? Communism causes mass poverty everywhere it is tried. And why does it matter? These desperate refugees didn’t reach their conclusions about the effects of communism as the result of a college bull session. They object to communism because of the horrendous human suffering that it has caused them.
Our welfare state and its leaders, in particular, President Bill Clinton and Florida’s governor Lawton Chiles, give us a choice. Either we let Cubans escape tyranny and come to the United States, in which case we must subsidize them, or we refuse to subsidize their living here, in which case the government intervenes to prevent Cubans from coming.
Because Chiles is, appropriately, concerned about spending Florida taxpayers’ money on new immigrants, he wants to prevent them from coming. And Clinton apparently agrees. He persuaded Fidel Castro to forcibly prevent Cubans from emigrating.
Note the irony. Clinton leads one of the freest countries in the world, a country built on the idea that each person has inalienable rights that no government can violate. He persuades the leader of a totalitarian government to re-adopt a policy that most clearly distinguishes free states from slave ones. The judges in the Dred Scott decision would have been proud of their willing student.
How did we reach a point where a governor concerned about spending lobbies a U.S. president to consign people to tyranny? The cause was our inhumane welfare state. The recent debate about the Cubans points up its absolute moral bankruptcy.
We often think of the welfare state as benevolent, the institutional equivalent of a kind uncle who bought you ice cream. It’s not.
The comparison is unfair to the uncle. The uncle was willingly spending his own money. The welfare state, by contrast, uses taxes to grab other people’s money. And even when the uncle is short of money, he lets you out to spend your own money if you have it. He doesn’t lock you in a closet.
The welfare state does the equivalent of locking you in a closet. Instead of letting the Cubans decide whether they want to come here unsubsidized, it locks them in Cuba. The main people responsible are the welfare-rights activists who sued to achieve this result and the judges who decided in their favor.
Notice also the awkward position that Clinton has put our military in. He has ordered the military to pick up Cubans who are trying to leave their island hell to come here. His policies, like those of former President George Bush, require the military to use force against innocent foreigners, rather than engage in their only proper duty under the Constitution, which is to defend the United States from foreign enemies.
There’s a simple solution. First, end our embargo against Cuba. The embargo hurts politically powerless Cubans most and sends them a mixed message about what our society is all about. On the one hand, we trumpet freedom; on the other hand, our government does not allow us one of the most basic freedoms of all–the right to trade. By instead letting innocent. joyous capitalism prevail, we would drive a stake in Castro’s monstrous dictatorship.
Second, allow in all the Cubans who want to come, on one condition: that for 20 years they forswear all the trappings of the welfare state–food stamps, welfare and unemployment benefits.
Remember the words of Emma Lazarus, the young daughter of Jewish immigrants, inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. She talks of aspiring immigrants as “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Not yearning for food stamps.
The link to Bryan’s article in my Encyclopedia is one I added. The article did not exist then and Bryan was 23.