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New Bill Would Help Cuban Players

Rep. Jose Serrano says he has filed a bill allowing Cuban baseball players to participate in the United States without defecting.

Serrano, a Democrat from New York, told the Associated Press on Saturday his measure would allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service to grant work visas similar to those given to players from other countries. The visas would expire annually after the World Series.

The Cubans would remain permanent residents and citizens of their own country. Serrano said he believes current U.S. law, which permits only defectors to work in the United States, is unfair.

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"If a Cuban player comes to the United States and says, `I have no problems with my country, with my government -- I'm coming to play baseball,' ... then they won't let him play," Serrano said.

Serrano said other lawmakers have warned him they oppose the measure because they fear players' pay would be confiscated by the Castro government, which severely limits how much its citizens can earn.

On Friday, Cuba's government news agency quoted Cuban sports minister Humberto Rodriguez as saying the government would consider allowing players to play in the major leagues "as long as it respects the principles of Cuban socialist sports."

Some of Cuba's biggest sports stars have defected in recent years, among them New York Yankees pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and 1997 World Series MVP Livan Hernandez.

In March, four Cuban baseball players and a coach escaped to the Bahamas on a raft. Bahamian officials sent all of them back except Jorge Luis Toca, who was allowed to go to Japan because he has a Japanese wife. Toca signed a minor-league contract with the New York Mets in September.

Fidel Castro said last week he is not opposed to Cuban teams competing in the United States.

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