Could Cuban Player Defections Really Mess Up New Baseball Relations?

If you heard today’s NPR story on “With Improved Relations, Are The U.S. And Cuba Ready To Play Ball?“, then you heard a reference to the little-known “Cuban Adjustment Act.” Cuba’s baseball commissioner, Heriberto Suarez Pereda, places the blame squarely on this piece of U.S. immigration legislation for Cuba having already lost a number of major — and minor — players to the U.S., and for the likelihood that any efforts to normalize baseball competition between the two countries will be hampered by the risk of more Cuban player defections.

What on earth is the Cuban Adjustment Act? Even some immigration attorneys — particularly those practicing far from the shores of Florida — may have never had cause to use it, if they’ve even heard of it. The law dates back to 1959 — a response to Castro assuming power in Cuba and setting up the first Communist state in the Western hemisphere.

The idea of the Act is that any Cuban who makes it past the U.S. Coast Guard to dry land will be welcomed in a way that no other undocumented immigrant is. If they can meet some basic admissibility requirements (i.e. they’re not criminals or threats to U.S. health or security) they may receive a period of what’s called “parole.” This is a quasi-legal status allowing them to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

After one year of parole, they may apply for a U.S. green card (“adjustment of status”). That’s about as fast a track to U.S. residence as any non-citizen could ask for. (If you’re interested in the procedural details, see “Becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident Under the Cuban Adjustment Act.”)

Of course, normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations will take high-level agreements and probably new legislation, in the course of which this Act, too, might well be amended. Undoing decades of a broken diplomatic relationship may be more complex than it first appeared. But for two countries that revere baseball so much, there has to be a way, right?