Cubans Surge Into Mexico, Southern United States

Migrants fear that United States will soon cut off legal residency as Washington normalizes relations with Havana

Cuban migrants talk with a Costa Rican immigration official at the border with Nicaragua / AP

Cuban migrants are inundating Mexico and southern Texas in order to obtain asylum, an indication that Cubans still desire to flee their country after Havana’s normalization of relations with the United States.

Nearly 30,000 Cubans sought asylum in Texas during a one-year period that ended in September, an increase of 80 percent from the previous year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. The migrants fear that, as part of the rapprochement between Washington and Havana, U.S. lawmakers and the Obama administration will soon end a longstanding policy—known as the dry foot provision—that offers Cubans a fast track process to securing legal residency and a green card if they enter the United States by land.

Mexican immigration officials have also reported a surge in Cuban migrants compared with last year. While hundreds of Cubans still attempt to reach South Florida by sea, and are often detained and deported by the U.S. Coast Guard, more and more Cubans are traveling hundreds of miles on land through South and Central America to ender the United States under the dry foot provision.

At the urging of the United States, Mexican authorities have intensified their border enforcement and detained tens of thousands of Central American immigrants this year. Cuban migrants, by contrast, are allowed to proceed to America.

Cubans, who typically begin their attempts in Ecuador and then hop boats, planes, and buses through Central America and Mexico, say that they endure abuses by officials and are forced to pay several bribes along their journey to the United States. Despite the impoverished conditions in many countries along the migrant route, one Cuban engineer told the Journal that, "we have seen many more luxuries than we ever did in Cuba."

"I don’t need to be rich," said the migrant engineer who plans to live with his wife in Miami. "I want to live free and feed my family, that is all. In Cuba it’s impossible to aspire to anything."

Some conservative lawmakers have called for ending the dry foot policy. Rep. Paul Gosar (R., Ariz.) introduced a bill last month that would repeal the provision along with its authorization legislation, the Cuban Adjustment Act. He said the policies "provide amnesty to Cuban aliens and are costing taxpayers billions of dollars."

"If President Obama has normalized relations with Cuba, why would we treat illegal immigrants from that nation any different than those from other countries?" he said in a statement.

It remains unclear whether Gosar’s bill will garner wider support, though some groups who support stricter U.S. immigration rules have endorsed it.

The Obama administration has so far indicated that it would not scrap the dry foot provision. A State Department spokesperson said that the administration "has no plans to change its immigration policies with regard to Cuba."

"We continue to encourage all countries to respect the human rights of migrants and to ensure humane treatment of individuals seeking asylum or other forms of protection in accordance with international law and their own national laws," the spokesperson said.

The surge of Cuban migrants into the United States also raises questions about the results of the administration’s rapprochement with the Castro regime. U.S. officials have said that, through direct engagement with the Cuban government, they can push Havana to protect the rights of its people and move toward democracy.

"I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement," said President Obama last year when he announced the normalization policy. "After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked."

However, President Raul Castro’s government has continued to jail dissidents on the island. The exodus of Cuban migrants also suggests that civilians are still seeking a better life elsewhere.

Normalization talks between the United States and Cuba have continued in recent months. The two countries held their first law enforcement dialogue earlier this month in Washington, where they discussed "a wide range of areas of cooperation in law enforcement, including counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, transnational crime, cyber-crime, secure travel and trade, and fugitives."

"The United States and Cuban governments have begun a process of constructive engagement that is a long-term process," the State Department spokesperson said. "The situation in Cuba will not change overnight."