Español As negotiations between the United States and Cuba on the normalization of relations continue, new data reveals that over 20,300 Cubans arrived on or nearly reached US soil without a visa in fiscal year 2014.
According to Miami-based daily El Nuevo Herald, the new wave of Cuban migrants marks the highest annual number since the paper began keeping records a decade ago. Behind the surge were fears that Washington will soon reform the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which fast-tracks Cuban migrants for permanent residence, as a token of good faith to Havana.
The figure includes those Cubans who successfully reached Florida’s shores by boat (814 individuals) those intercepted by US authorities at sea (2,111) as well as the 17,459 migrants entering the country via the Mexican border.
A significant proportion of the total — 6,489 people — arrived via the Mexican border between October 1 and December 31, according to Customs and Border Protection figures, suggesting that the announcement of renewed diplomatic ties in mid-December spurred many to make the hazardous journey to US territory.
“As soon as the president announced the new policy toward Cuba, we were worried that it would provoke a wave of panic in relation to the Cuban Adjustment Act, and that was what happened,” Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Democracy Movement, told the Nuevo Herald from Cuba.
“We saw a sudden increase of what was already happening for many months, and described as a silent mass exodus from Cuba,” he added.
However, despite the talks, the US Coast Guard has reiterated that its policy towards Cuban migrants remains unchanged.
“The administration’s recent announcement regarding Cuba does not affect immigration policies including wet foot/dry foot or the Cuban Adjustment Act — which only Congress can change,” Rear Adm. Jake Korn, Coast Guard 7th District commander, said in a statement.
Cuban-American politicians, including Senators Marco Rubio (Florida) and Robert Menendez (New Jersey), have shared concerns that once-sacrosanct legislation fast-tracking Cuban residency in the United States needs to be changed. Critics claim that the rationale for offering political asylum is now fading, as many Cubans now hop between the island and the United States for economic reasons.
The Miami-Dade County Commission in Florida unanimously voted in favor of a resolution on January 21 to ask Congress to revise the Cuban Adjustment Act. “I think the law should be eliminated,” Bruno Barreiro, the commissioner who sponsored the resolution, said the week before the vote. “How can someone claim to be politically persecuted, have a special path to residency and citizenship, and a year and a day after being here travel back to Cuba?”
Many Cubans fear their opportunity to migrate to the United States might be nearing an end. “We were in Panama when we first heard about this, and we started talking about this right away,” recalled Luis Alberto, a 30-year-old Cuban migrant who arrived at the Mexican border as part of a group on January 3.
“We said to ourselves, ‘We’d better hurry or we’re going to get left out,’” he added.