As relations between the United States and Cuba continue to normalize, many Cubans are afraid that they will lose their special migration status, sparking a huge increase in the numbers of Cubans who are trying to get to the United States. Last week, 238 Cubans flew from Panama to Juarez, Mexico, ultimately making their way over the border and into El Paso. This year, Texas will likely continue to see a larger number of Cubans crossing our borders than usual because many have been choosing to forgo the risky 90 mile raft trip from Cuban to Florida in favor of flying to South America and trying to reach the United States from there.
In fact, thousands of Cubans are now waiting for extremely limited flights to the US after several Central American countries closed their borders months ago. In Panama, Cuban migrants have been staying in camps and makeshift shelters. Panama has made an agreement that allows them to fly a total of 3,995 U.S.-bound Cuban migrants to Mexico, where they will be allowed to stay for up to 20 days for “humanitarian reasons” due to “extraordinary circumstances”. Costa Rica, other Central American countries and Mexico also agreed to allow the transfer of approximately 8000 Cuban migrants after these migrants were stranded when, in November 2015, Nicaragua closed its southern border and refused to let Cubans make the trip north. It is expected that these migrants will continue to El Paso and then will resettle in Texas, Florida and other destinations of their choosing.
Additionally, many Cuban migrants are still trying to reach the United States by sea. The U.S. Coast Guard said last year that it was seeing an increase in Cubans trying to reach the United States in rafts. Last Tuesday, eight Cuban migrants made it ashore in South Florida after 11 days at sea in a home-made vessel, police told CNN affiliate WSVN-TV in Miami.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics, 24,477 Cubans were admitted into the United States with refugee status in 2014. That figure nearly doubled in 2015 to 43,154. The figure for this year already stands at 25,806, indicating that the 2016 figure will likely be higher than 2015.
Why are we seeing this surge? Under the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act of 1966 along with the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy established by the 1994 and 1995 migration accords, Cubans who reach U.S. soil have the right to stay and seek residency, a status not offered to any other nationality. Cubans who succeed in reaching the US are generally granted status as legal residents after living in the country for one year. If intercepted en route to the US, they are returned to Cuba, unless they cite fears of persecution.
Essentially, right now, Cubans have an easy path to permanent residency, as long as they reach US soil. However, many Cubans believe they will soon lose their special refugee status due to improved relations between the US and Cuba, even though President Obama has stated that he will not make such changes in Cuban immigrant rights. Because of their fear that it will soon be more difficult to become legal residents of the US, many Cubans are coming now to avoid missing out.
If you or a loved one needs advice regarding Cuban migration or other immigration issues, please contact us today. Our highly experienced team is here to help make the process of relocating to the US as smooth as possible. Please let us know how we can help.
Resources for Cuban Refugees
1. International Rescue Committee, Dallas, Texas Office
2. Refugee Services of Texas, Dallas Office
3. Refugee Resettlement Office of Catholic Charities Dallas
4. Texas Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement
5. Office of Refugee Resettlement