Cubans Respond With Zeal to New US Migration Policy
Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press, February 4, 2023
Overwhelmed by thousands of Cubans crowding its southern border after making the dangerous trip through Central America and an increase in makeshift boats crossing the Florida Straits, the United States in early January approved a policy change that makes migrants request a permit, or parole, online before arriving with the sponsorship of a relative or acquaintance in the U.S.
Cubans, who qualify for the program along with Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans, have responded with zeal, launching a search for sponsors and long lines to obtain documents. The program’s backers hope it will help would-be migrants avoid the risks of the route through Mexico — plagued by traffickers – and bring order to the migrant flow.
According to figures from U.S. border authorities, in the 2021-2022 fiscal year – which began in October last year and ended in September – officials had a record 224,000 encounters with Cuban migrants on the Mexico border. In October 2022 there were 29,878 Cuban migrants stopped, in November 35,881 and in December 44,064.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard intercepted 6,182 Cubans trying to arrive by sea in fiscal year 2021-2022. Add to that 4,795 in the past three months.
All the figures are records and come amid a serious economic crises on the island caused by the coronavirus pandemic, inefficiencies in economic reforms and a radical tightening of U.S. sanctions, which seek to pressure its government to change its model. Blackouts, shortages, inflation, long fuel lines and dollarization marked parts of 2021 and 2022 in Cuba, while the country saw its first street demonstrations in decades with thousands of people demanding an end of the power outages.
Until Jan. 5, Cubans who arrived at the northern border of Mexico obtained permits that granted them entry into U.S. territory, assuming there was a credible fear that prevented them from returning to the island. Later they usually ended up with refugee benefits and a year after that the protection of the Cuban Adjustment Act.
Then the Biden administration unveiled its new policy: 30,000 migrants will be accepted each month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. The migrants can stay for up to two years but must have a sponsor already in place in the United States. Those who risk reaching the borders without permission would be deported and not be able to enter U.S. territory for five years.
And the program is not without controversy in Cuba amid the migrant boom in recent months, since many people had already began their journeys toward the United States on the previous route. Some had even sold houses and cars to make the journey through Central America, which begins with a flight to Nicaragua and continues up through Mexico to the U.S. border. It is a route plagued by dangers and human traffickers.
Many Cubans wanting to migrate cannot apply for the program because they lack a sponsor in the U.S.
On social media, memes have spread rapidly about Cubans rediscovering distant cousins or previously unknown uncles in the United States, and the U.S. Embassy warned Cubans to careful to avoid fraud and even human trafficking.
Some experts defend the program but acknowledge that without an upturn in the Cuban economy it is unlikely to reduce the record number of departures.