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Rivera's Cuban Readjustment Act reforms get a hearing

Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla., had a hearing Thursday on his proposed changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act. The Miami lawmaker wants to change the law to prohibit Cubans who claim political asylum in the United States from returning to the island nation. The proposal would revoke the residency status of any Cuban national who returns to Cuba after receiving political asylum and residency in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Since 1981, more than 500,000 Cubans have become permanent U.S. residents. (Or naturalized U.S. citizens.) On average, there have been about 45,000 new arrivals a year in recent years, Rivera's office said this week.

It's unclear, though, how many of those people actually return to Cuba each year. What is clear: Travel has become easier under the Obama administration, which eased rules that formerly allowed family members to return only every three years.

Critics of the bill, which has no co-sponsors, say that if it were to pass, it needs loopholes, including allowing people who seek asylum to return to Cuba to visit sick or dying relatives.

It "turns the act of travel to Cuba into a deportable offense," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee subcommittee that heard the bill.

"No matter what the reason for stepping foot in Cuba, you lose your status," Lofgren said. "If you go to visit family members you haven’t seen in years, you lose your status. If you go to attend a funeral or donate a kidney to a dying relative, you lose your status. If you go to meet with Cuban dissidents with the aim of transitioning Cuba to a democracy, you lose your status."

Rivera says that Cuban-Americans increasingly cite family reunification to justify travel that "in reality more closely resembles common tourism." Because many Cubans who seek asylum in the United States receive food stamps and other welfare benefits while they're acclimating to this country, Rivera says it's conceivable U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing some trips back to Cuba.

Lofgren said her office checked out that claim, and could find no examples of such abuse -- yet offered to help write legislation that would "revoke public benefits for any person who spent an inordinate amount of time in Cuba, absent truly extraordinary circumstances." Rivera's office turned down their offer, Lofgren said.