South Florida has been there—but with a difference

If you lived in South Florida 34 years ago, you can understand the feelings of those who live in cities along the Mexican border and are worried about all the undocumented children arriving from Central America.

In 1980, the flood of refugees was coming from Cuba, and coming to Florida. It started in the spring, when food shortages in Cuba led to another round of unrest. Fidel Castro cracked down, but in April some protesters fled to the Peruvian embassy in Havana. Castro’s solution to what became a standoff was to declare that all those who wished to leave Cuba for the decadent United States could go.

Then, as now, events were largely beyond the control of an American president. In 1980, no one here expected Castro to renounce his policy of arresting and jailing those who tried to flee the socialist paradise. In 2014, not enough people here expected that violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador would cause families to send their children on a perilous journey through Mexico to the United States.

Then, as now, the U.S. government fumbled for a response. In 1980, though, there was a community quite willing to assist in the sort of refugee movement that some Americans, as some do now, called an “invasion.”

As Cubans headed north across the Florida Straits in every conceivable vessel, Cuban-Americans headed south in every conceivable vessel—not to stop them but to help them. Many Cuban-Americans saw them as fellow anti-communists fleeing the man who, to the exiles, had stolen their country. The man who through his revolution in 1959 had forced bankers, lawyers and doctors to America, where they started over as busboys, waiters and janitors before remaking Miami and Dade County. (For those of a certain age, it always will be “Dade” County, not Miami-Dade.)

The roles of those protesting today’s refugees from Central America were played in 1980 by those north of Miami. They saw Castro as “flushing his toilets.” Indeed, among the 125,000 Cubans who came between April and October were some prisoners and inmates of mental institutions.

But one realization links the Mariel boatlift and the surge from Central America: The United States needs a new policy on immigration.

For all the criticism of the Obama administration for being unprepared, a law passed during the Bush administration makes it more likely that many of these children will stay, not be deported. That 2002 law, designed to fight human trafficking, sets a higher standard for deporting unaccompanied minors. As the Associated Press reported, some of the children have family members in this country and will be resettled with them, whether their parents came to the country legally or not.

The immigration reform bill that passed the Senate a year ago on a bipartisan vote would have provided more money for the border security House Republicans have demanded since the unaccompanied children became a controversy. Predictions now are that the House won’t move on immigration until Obama leaves office.

An act of Congress also ensured that most of the Mariel Cubans could stay. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 allows all Cuban immigrants who reach this country not only to stay but also to become permanent legal residents after a year, unless they have trouble with the law. That special exception needlessly persists, underscoring the influence of the Cuban-American politicians.

Few states would benefit more from immigration reform than Florida. The state needs highly-educated technocrats to boost entrepreneurship and less-educated workers to pick crops. Legal status for now-illegal immigrants would make it harder for sleazy employers to suppress wages and make it easier for honest employers to follow the law. Instead, what Florida gets from Washington on immigration is an argument, not a solution.

Trader Joe's

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie already has expressed her unwillingness to approve above-ground power lines in front of the new Trader Joe’s store. Council members Robert Weinroth and Mike Mullaugh sound as if they also will be no votes at the 1:30 p.m. council hearing on July 21.

When we spoke, Weinroth didn’t want to commit, since the hearing is quasi-judicial. Still, he noted that the power line comes up from the ground across the street to the south of East City Center—the Trader Joe’s site—and goes back underground just north of East City Center. He wondered why there would be any need for an exception, though he said it might be good to take a “holistic approach” to the property on South Federal Highway.

Mullaugh, who was on vacation in Ireland, said, “I haven’t seen any reason why we should change the rules.” The developers have put up two above-ground poles, but Mullaugh said, “It isn’t about whether the poles are attractive or unattractive. We bury lines because it’s better for public safety.”

Council members Constance Scott and Scott Singer did not respond to text messages. But if Haynie, Mullaugh and Weinroth vote no, that will be a majority. Which means the developers have quite a sell job ahead.

High Times

The hope among Democrats that November’s vote on medical marijuana in Florida will bring out more young people, who tend to vote Democratic, highlights the flaw in the argument for the marijuana amendment.

One associates medical marijuana with relief from nausea for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, relief from muscle spasms for those with multiple sclerosis and help with weight loss for those with HIV. One associates younger people with recreational marijuana use.

Yet while the language of the amendment allows the use of marijuana for “debilitating medical conditions,” it also allows it for “other medical conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

Is it cynical to believe that some doctors in Florida might be willing to prescribe marijuana use for “other medical conditions” like a sore back, or that those doctors might purchase an interest in marijuana clinics? Of course. It also is realistic, since we’re just a few years from when “clinics” were prescribing prescription painkillers far above any medical demand.

With “sober houses” becoming such a problem in Delray Beach and other cities, it’s logical to think that marijuana clinics also would appear if the amendment passes. The need for medical marijuana in Florida is real. The medical marijuana amendment on Florida's ballot, however, is an illusion.

Same sex marriage study                            

Last week, a Miami-Dade County judge heard arguments in the lawsuit challenging Florida’s same-sex marriage ban. In the year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, judicial rulings have overturned bans in many other states.

The argument in favor of the ban is that society supposedly benefits more from “traditional marriage,” between a man and a woman. New research, though, further undercuts that argument.

The Washington Post reported Monday on a study conducted by the University of Melbourne. It showed that children of same-sex couples did better in terms of physical health and social well-being than children of heterosexual couples, despite having to deal with the stigma that some people still have toward such relationships.

Such findings do not come as a surprise. As the court debated the DOMA case, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study showing that economic stability and good parenting mean more to children’s welfare than the sexual orientation of their parents. What good, then, does Florida do by denying rights to a class of people just because of whom they love?

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

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About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.