- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

"One Down, 800,000 To Go," read a banner in a Miami rally supporting the Justice Department's raid on the home of relatives of Elian Gonzalez. The "one" to which the banner referred was Elian, while 800,000 is the approximate population of Cuban-Americans in Miami. "Don't Fight Your Battles Here. Go Home and Fight Your War" read another.

These banners illustrate the seamier side of a debate over Elian that many persons had already found bemusing. The controversy has caused many "it takes a village" liberals to become vocal defenders of the nuclear family. They deeply resent distinguishing communist Cuba from any other country and therefore favor deporting Elian to his native land, just as if he'd come from Mexico. Though some traditional defenders of the conventional family believe that uniting Elian with his father is paramount, others feel it is more important to secure a life of freedom for the child.

While much of the country is mulling issues related to family unification, the right to apply for asylum and the heavy-handed rule of Fidel Castro, however, these banners suggest that some Americans who feel strongly about the Elian case and who supported the government raid aren't focused on any of these issues. They feel strongly that Elian, and his kind for that matter, don't belong in the United States.

Such critics can generally be described as staunchly anti-immigrant. Although America has been, since its inception, a country of immigrants, some of its citizens have become suspicious and contemptuous of the newly arrived, especially if their culture and ethnicity is at odds with their own. Thus while some Cuban-Americans have come to see Americans' support for the government raid as the manifestation of their failure to communicate effectively the cruelty of the Castro regime, they may be misreading, in part, the public mood. Perhaps the Elian case is as much about general perceptions regarding immigration in general as it is about Cuba and Fidel specifically.

That would be unfortunate. Doubtless, some Americans believe immigrants are an economic drag, taking more in the way of government benefits than they contribute to this country's financial well-being. But except for refugees and the elderly, for example, immigrants are considerably less likely than natives to receive welfare. Among longer-term immigrants of working age, 3.2 percent are on welfare versus 3.7 percent for working-age natives, according to a 1996 study by Michael Fix and Jeffrey Passel of the Urban Institute. Refugees who arrive fleeing persecution and war are more likely to collect public assistance, because of the trauma they have experienced, their limited assets, and poor knowledge of English, but their incomes tend to rise steadily over time. The intangible assets imagination, dreams, intelligence, skills and other hard-to-measure resources that they bring with them mean they are far wealthier than would first appear. All they need is an opportunity to succeed, something this country has in abundance.

The 800,000 Cuban-Americans living in Miami have contributed to our economy, and they enrich the national culture. They are fighting a noble fight against a brutal dictatorship not far from this country's shores. America should be proud to have them on its soil.

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