MIAMI — The longest-serving Cuban-American in Congress may be easing her staunch support for the preferential immigration law for Cubans.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., has been one of the most stalwart defenders of the Cuban Adjustment Act, but said those who exploit it by quickly returning to Cuba are “not in fear of persecution” and “should not have the privilege.”

In a television interview to be aired Sunday, Ros-Lehtinen said a Sun Sentinel investigation opened her eyes to welfare abuses by recent Cuban arrivals who are collecting U.S. assistance, and then returning to Cuba.

“They’re coming here and they’re taking welfare benefits when they’ve never worked in the United States, they’ve never contributed to the greatness of our nation, and they’re taking their money and going to Cuba,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “That has got to stop.”

Ros-Lehtinen is an influential leader of the powerful Cuban bloc in Congress that has long protected the special status of Cuban immigrants. Cubans are allowed into the U.S. just by touching American soil and can swiftly become permanent residents under the act.

Passed half a century ago, the law was intended to provide legal status to Cubans who escaped to the U.S. after Fidel Castro took power. It has remained in place and became a coveted perk for Cuban immigrants who enjoy a fast-track to residency unavailable to any other immigrant group.

Ros-Lehtinen has said that she was leaving any reform up to Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., a freshman in Congress and the son of Cuban exiles. He has been working on legislation that would modify the Cuban Adjustment Act by sanctioning Cubans who return to Cuba before becoming U.S. citizens.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., introduced a bill Oct. 23 to repeal the act outright.

This is about “making sure that everybody is subject to the same rules, and that means nobody gets preferential treatment,” Gosar said in an interview. “We’ve actually allowed this loophole to occur so that the criminal element and organized crime have now exploited that.”

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