Crashed Cubans Have an InElianable Right to Stay

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Get me rewrite. It may have looked like the makings of "Elian: The Sequel," but the latest drama involving a group of Cuban fugitives saved from the sea now looks unlikely to turn into another high-stakes showdown. The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday brought the remaining eight survivors of Tuesday's plane crash ashore in Florida for medical treatment; one survivor had been transferred to a hospital immediately, suggesting the injuries to the others were light. Once ashore, they were interviewed by the FBI and the Immigration and Nationalization Service, and on Thursday six of them were released into the custody of relatives in Miami. As long as they don't turn out to have criminal records, they'll be able to apply for permanent residency in a year. Even Cuba's official newspaper, Granma, now acknowledges that what Havana first claimed was a hijacking was, in fact, an escape plan hatched by the pilot.

Havana will, no doubt, fume about how the Cuban Adjustment Act — which grants asylum to any Cubans who manage to reach U.S. shores, but sends home those intercepted at sea — encourages people to risk their lives. Campaigning against the act has become the centerpiece of Fidel Castro's domestic propaganda efforts in the wake of the Elian Gonzalez case, but that doesn't mean Havana will use Thursday's previously scheduled immigration talks with U.S. officials in Washington to threaten, once again, to open the spigots. (The current arrangement was negotiated between the two governments, which have no official diplomatic relations, after Castro for a brief period in August 1994 allowed anyone who could get onto a flotation device to leave, creating a "boat people" crisis for the authorities in Washington and Florida.)

Following the Elian Gonzalez debacle, Washington will be inclined to quietly process the latest arrivals and let the matter rest. And Havana, too, may be reluctant to turn the case into another confrontation. If, as it now appears, this is simply a case of a group of consenting adults and their children trying to leave Cuba, then it's a no-brainer in the eyes of the U.S. public. And making a fuss might undo the gains Havana made in U.S. public opinion during the Elian showdown. In other words, don't expect to see this case remain in the headlines next week, much less by turned into a movie by the Fox Family Channel.