Posted on May 17, 2016

Cubans at the Border: U.S. Policies Incentivize Cuban Migration

Kausha Luna, Center for Immigration Studies, May 2016

A new report from the Center for Immigration Studies examines the flood of Cuban migrants entering the United States under the current interpretation of the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), which allows Cubans without visas to receive permanent legal status, work permits, Social Security numbers, and full access to welfare programs once they have been let into the U.S.

U.S. policies have incentivized Cubans to leave their home country and travel to the U.S. through Central America and Mexico in an attempt to reach the Rio Grande. The huge numbers have compelled Nicaragua and Costa Rica to close their borders, leaving thousands of Cubans stranded in Panama. Panama, with the support of Mexico, is airlifting thousands of Cubans to the U.S.-Mexican border and has temporarily closed its border with Colombia to prevent further arrivals. (Cubans often start their illegal journeys in South America and work their way north.) This latest airlift follows one from Costa Rica earlier this year.

View the entire report here.

Although created to assist political dissenters from Cuba’s Communist government during the Cold War, a quarter-century after the end of the Cold War the CAA is now primarily benefitting economic migrants. These Cubans are being allowed to enter as “parolees,” a form of entry that by law is supposed to be reserved for individual cases of exceptionally compelling humanitarian or national interest. Once they have entered with parole, the Cuban Adjustment Act applies to them.

After visiting Laredo, Texas, the main crossing point for the Cubans, Kausha Luna, Research Associate at the Center and author of the report, commented, “The present interpretation of the CAA ignores the legislation’s original intent. The majority of Cubans entering this country do not qualify as refugees, yet the Obama administration has done nothing to prevent the transfer of thousands of Cuban migrants in Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border.”

The surge has been fueled by a number of factors: in addition to the longstanding policy of granting all Cubans legal status and welfare, the thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations has led some islanders to fear their special privileges will soon come to an end; also, the Obama administration’s lifting of remittance limits has enabled family members in the U.S. to send more money to pay smugglers.

During FY 2015, 43,154 Cubans without visas entered the United States through the ports of entry. This represents a 78 percent increase over the previous year and is roughly six times higher than it was in 2009. In the past five months, Over 18,500 Cubans have entered the country by the Laredo port of entry, where the majority of visa-less Cubans enter.

The number of Cuban visa-less entries to the U.S. is aided by the Mexican government’s permission for Cubans to be airlifted from Panama to Mexico. Mexico also deports only 3.7 percent of the Cuban illegal aliens it apprehends, due in large part to the Cuban government’s unwillingness to accept its citizens back for repatriation.