Democrat Joe Garcia accused Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Wednesday of launching a "divisive" political ad espousing an "odious" policy toward Cuban immigrants.
In a Spanish-language TV interview, Garcia referred to Curbelo's recent ad highlighting the Miami congressman's legislation to curtail abuse of federal benefits by Cuban immigrants who frequently return to the island. Garcia called it "an odious, toxic political calculation."
"At least when Mr. Trump stands in front of me, he's my enemy and he says so," Garcia said, dropping the name of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. "Worse is the guy from my same community, my same culture, who stands next to me and sticks a dagger in our backs."
Curbelo's law would no longer let Cuban immigrants automatically qualify for refugee status, which allows them to obtain certain government benefits. Some so-called economic refugees have been taking the money and frequently returning to Cuba, which suggests the immigrants aren't fleeing political persecution. That was the reason for considering Cubans refugees in the first place.
"This country offers us limitless opportunities," Curbelo says in his ad. "We can't let anyone abuse its generosity."
Garcia said Curbelo's proposal would hurt "the defenseless, the disenfranchised, the ones who arrived yesterday, as if these people don't deserve the consideration that Curbelo's father received, that my grandfather received."
Garcia has long disagreed with calls to alter federal laws that benefit Cuban immigrants. Cuba was one of the key issues that divided Curbelo and Garcia in the 2014 race, which Curbelo won. The 2016 contest looks no different.
"It's disgusting language like this that made Garcia's short, scandal-plagued tenure so ineffective," Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement. "While Joe Garcia continues to push normalized relations that threaten Cuban refugee status entirely, Carlos' proposal will protect the benefits for true refugees who continue to escape the Castro regime's oppression."
Garcia, who held the 26th district seat before Curbelo, boasted he won last week's Democratic primary despite being outspent by opponent Annette Taddeo. He credited knocking on voters' doors and sitting in their kitchens to sip coffee.
"Not only are we going to win" the general election, he predicted to América TeVé's Pedro Sevcec. "We're going to win handily."
Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff