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Cuban migration to US rises amid historic thaw in relations

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Fears grow that US will end ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy granting legal status to Cubans who reach Florida shores.

The lines outside the former Swiss-supervised U.S. interests section in Havana were notoriously long for decades, with Cubans applying for a legal path to what they hoped would be a better life.

But since the U.S. diplomatic facility was formally upgraded to an embassy on July 20, the United States and Cuba are perhaps one step closer to modifying an immigration arrangement that affords Cubans special status — whether they arrive stateside legally or not.

Under the Cuban Adjustment Act's "wet foot, dry foot" policy dating back to 1994 migration accords, any Cuban who reaches the U.S. is permitted to stay in the country.

Although U.S. officials say unique migration laws are not going to be scrapped, the Cuban government is calling for reforms to a policy they argue results in brain drain.

Meanwhile, increasing emigration rates during the last year suggest popular perceptions are that the U.S. will soon make it more difficult for new immigrants to be automatically recognized as political refugees.

Perhaps in anticipation of those changes, new data suggest an increase in Cuban migration to the U.S. by land, sea and air. According to U.S. Coast Guard officials, the number of Cubans intercepted at sea has been increasing. And U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports a 118 percent spike in the number reaching Miami and four points along the border with Mexico.

How many Cubans are coming to the U.S.?

At present, a guaranteed 20,000 immigrant visas are issued to Cubans each year, with an additional 40,000 non-immigrant visas granted to temporary visitors. Some of the legal migration occurs through the Special Cuban Migration Program, also known as the "Cuban lottery." Other Cubans reach the U.S. by obtaining a third-country passport or through marriage to U.S. citizens.

In 2014, another 25,568 Cubans arrived at border crossings, Florida shores and airports without a visa. CBP reports that the number of illegal arrivals more than doubled between the first quarter of 2014 and the same period this year, from 4,296 to 9,371. The vast majority arrive at the Laredo border crossing, with the second-highest numbers registered in Miami, which includes all ports of entry in southern Florida.

Figures provided by the U.S. Coast Guard show 1,604 interdictions of Cubans at sea thus far in the current fiscal year, which is on pace to result in a 14 percent jump over the previous year.

“The numbers [are] increasing slowly since 2010, and now we're seeing the numbers return to the historical norms of the early 2000s,” said Coast Guard spokesman Chad Taylor, referring to a sea exodus starting to rival the rafter crises of decades past.

Source: Aljazeera America

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