More Cubans emigrate to the US crossing from Mexico

For years after leaving Cuba, the mother of two tried to bring her children and parents to the US through legal channels.

Ultimately, he decided he wouldn’t wait any longer: He paid someone more than $40,000 to help them sneak through Mexico.

“I said to myself: ‘Enough. I’m going to risk everything,’” said the 30-year-old woman, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from US authorities.

His family’s story is an example of what tens of thousands of Cuban immigrants seek to escape politics and economic problems are passing as more risk their lives and arrive illegally in the United States. It is a very different reality from years ago, when Cubans enjoyed special protections that other immigrants did not.

Their children and parents undertook a 20-day journey, beginning with a plane ride from Havana to Managua, Nicaragua. From there, they took buses, vans, and taxis through Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, until they reached the US-Mexico border.

“I saw that other people were coming across the border and they were happy, and I, who had done things legally, was still waiting for my children,” the woman said.

CUBA AND NICARAGUA

US border authorities encountered Cubans nearly 32,400 times in March, according to figures released Monday. That was about double the number in February and five times the number in October.

The increase coincided with Nicaragua’s decision in November to stop requiring visas from Cubans to promote tourism, after other countries, such as Panama and the Dominican Republic, began requiring them.

After flying into Nicaragua, Cubans travel overland to remote stretches of the US border with Mexico — primarily Yuma, Arizona, and Del Rio, Texas — and typically turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents.

The Biden administration has been leaning on other governments to do more to prevent migrants from reaching the US, most recently during a visit to Panama this week by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. The actions of Nicaragua, an adversary of the United States, complicate that effort.

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Cuban and American officials met on Thursday in Washington to discuss migration at their highest-level diplomatic talks in four years. The State Department said the meeting covered areas of successful cooperation on migration, but also identified obstacles to ensuring safe, orderly and legal migration.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended Cubans more than 79,800 times between October and March, more than twice as many as in all of 2021 and five times as many as in all of 2020. Overall, Border Patrol apprehended immigrants of all nationalities more than 209,000 times in March, the highest number monthly mark in 22 years.

Cubans who cross the U.S. border illegally face little risk of deportation or removal under a public health law that has been used to deny asylum to thousands of migrants of other nationalities on the grounds of slowing the spread of coronavirus. the COVID-19.

Just 500 Cubans detained in March, or about 2%, were subject to the authority of Title 42, named for a public health law. The Biden Administration plans to end the authority of Title 42 on May 23.

Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, and other experts estimate that the number of Cubans leaving could exceed other mass migrations from the island, including the 1980 Mariel boatlift, when more than 124,700 Cubans arrived in the US

“There are several intertwined factors that have produced a perfect storm for the intensification of the Cuban exodus,” Duany said.

On the one hand, Cuba is experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the tightening of US sanctions.

massive street protests on July 11, 2021, and the government’s response have also played a role. Non-governmental organizations have reported more than 1,400 arrests and 500 people sentenced to up to 30 years in prison for hooliganism or sedition.

Havana has not said how many Cubans have left and has accused the United States of manipulating the situation and offering perks that encourage departure.

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“What hurts? That there are young people who find that their future plans cannot be developed in the country and they have to emigrate,” Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said earlier this month. “There are people who want to try themselves in another world, who wants to show that he is not breaking with his country, that his aspiration is also to improve a little and then come back”.

THE CUBAN FAMILY TIRED OF WAITING

The 30-year-old woman who tried to bring her family to the US legally had arrived in Florida on a raft in 2016. Under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, Cubans could stay if they made it to land American. , but were returned if they were apprehended at sea.

Former President Obama ended that policy in 2017 and applied for immigration for his children the following year.

Every month, she sent her family $500 for medicine and food, along with boxes of clothes and other items, she said from her home in Tampa, Florida.

Ultimately, he decided to pay the smugglers $11,000 for each relative: his two children, ages 8 and 10, and his mother and father.

Her parents sold everything, including their house and furniture, before leaving with both children, the single mother explained.

In Managua, they met 200 other migrants — Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans — at a hotel.

“That same day they start a caravan by car, truck or any type of vehicle. In one night, they got into more than 10 different cars,” the woman said.

After 20 days, they arrived in Mexicali, Mexico, crossed the Colorado River at night, and surrendered to Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Arizona.

Were separated. The grandparents, aged 45 and 62, were released in two days; her grandchildren were detained for 11 days, the woman said.

THE CUBAN WHO FEARS FOR HIS LIFE

Other Cubans say they left because they felt persecuted.

Ariel, 24, worked doing blood tests in a hospital laboratory in Cienfuegos, on Cuba’s southern coast. During the pandemic, he led a protest demanding masks, gowns and disinfectants and criticized the government on Facebook for the lack of medical supplies.

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He told the AP in a phone interview that he decided to leave in November after receiving threats and being beaten. He requested that only his middle name be used because his mother and his 14-year-old sister in Cuba could face reprisals.

His entire trip “was a nightmare,” Ariel recalled, but said he was “willing to do whatever it takes” to get out of Cuba.

He made his way to Mexicali, with the help of an aunt in Florida, and paid a smuggler $300 to take him across the Colorado River.

He joined about 100 migrants, 90 of them Cubans, who boarded a truck at midnight, he said.

The river was calm but deep. The water covered her waist. She helped a Cuban mother by carrying her son on her shoulders.

The smuggler directed them to a location where Border Patrol agents would pick them up.

They waited two days in a migrant camp with 1,000 other people, eating bread and canned food. Border Patrol agents picked them up in groups of 12 and took them to a facility in Yuma that Ariel said “looked like a prison.”

After his release, he called his aunt to let her know he was ready to fly to St. Petersburg, Florida.

LIVING IN THE UNITED STATES

Many Cubans who crossed illegally say they now feel in limbo.

“The most difficult situation is going to be here, not when crossing (the border),” said Dr. Raúl González, a Cuban-American who owns a clinic that helps new arrivals with the paperwork to receive assistance for a few months. “They’re kind of stranded here.”

Asylum seekers may take some time to obtain a work permit.

At González’s clinic, Cubans lined up to secure one of the 20 available appointments each day.

“It’s sad what they’re going through,” the doctor said. “Many people tell me: ‘Don’t give me food stamps, I’d rather they let me work.’”

AP journalists Andrea Rodríguez in Havana and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.