Cuba Policy

January 18, 2006

Sun Seninel- Editorial Opinion

ISSUE: Refugees sent back to Cuba after landing on bridge.

It's almost Hemingwayesque: Fifteen refugees head to sea, but their quest to find freedom ends futilely when they land on a bridge to nowhere in the Florida Keys, and are returned to Cuba empty-handed.

Ever since the Clinton administration concocted the flawed policy, wet foot/dry foot has been a source of contention and division. Last week's episode, however, gives the policy's defenders and detractors space for agreement.

U.S. immigration authorities blundered badly by returning the refugees after determining they hadn't reached U.S. soil, because the portion of the Old Seven Mile Bridge they landed on is not connected to land.

Oh, really? Then what are the pilings holding up the bridge connected to? Isn't the land under the water U.S. property?

What an amazing interpretation. Worse, the ruling suggests that the bridge is not U.S. territory, and is a veritable no man's land. If a crime happened on that bridge, would it not be prosecuted? If a foreign power, say a communist island 90 miles away, were to occupy it, would Washington not defend it?

Good thing Key West's conch republicans have stepped forward to claim it.

Henry Flagler, the railroad magnate who built the bridge, must be rolling over in his grave. How ironic that the very transportation structures that physically linked the keys to the Florida mainland in the early 1900s are now deemed not part of the United States.

It's tempting to lay blame for this debacle on glitches stemming from the transfer of the erstwhile Immigration and Naturalization Service to the new Department of Homeland Security. Except that wet foot/dry foot has been a problematic policy all along.

Surely, though, it's not too much to expect that the federal government at least know where its own borders lie.

BOTTOM LINE: Cuban immigration policy is flawed, but at least we should agree on what is U.S. soil.

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