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Cuban migrants flow into South Florida at highest rate in 10 years

Cuban migrants flow into South Florida at highest rate in 10 years
BY NORA GAMEZ TORRES AND ALFONSO CHARDY ACHARDY@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM
02/01/2015 9:16 PM 02/01/2015 9:16 PM

Javier Martínez boarded a plane at José Martí International Airport in
Havana one day in October and left the island to seek a better future
abroad.

After five days in Ecuador, the 24-year-old accounting graduate made his
way to the Mexican border and on Dec. 30 arrived in Miami from
Brownsville, Texas, where he crossed.

“There was no future in Cuba,” Martínez said. “I am a graduate in
accounting and finance and I was working merely to buy food and some
clothes, and that’s it.”

When a passport control officer in Texas admitted Martínez into the
United States, he joined the ranks of a growing number of Cuban migrants
leaving the island.

More than 20,300 Cubans without visas sought to arrive or arrived in the
United States during fiscal year 2014, according to figures compiled by
el Nuevo Herald.

It is the highest number of unauthorized Cuban migrants to land on South
Florida beaches, cross the Mexican border or board boats headed for
Florida in 10 years, according to the figures collected by El Nuevo
Herald since 2005.

According to the figures, the total Cuban migrant flow for 2014 —
20,384 — consists of 17,459 arrivals at the Mexican border, 814 landings
on South Florida beaches and 2,111 interdictions at sea of migrants who
sailed from Cuba for South Florida.

The figure of Cuban departures in 2014 is roughly equal to the 20,000
visas the U.S. government issues to Cubans annually under migration accords.

The previous large number of overall Cuban departures occurred in fiscal
year 2007 when more than 18,200 Cuban migrants were interdicted, landed
on South Florida beaches or crossed the Mexican border.

Cuban migrants continue to arrive in significant numbers. Figures from
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) show that so far in fiscal year 2015
at least 6,489 Cuban migrants arrived via the Mexican border. Those
arrivals were recorded between Oct.1 and Dec. 31, 2014. Fiscal years run
from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 the next year.

For years now, the largest number of Cuban migrants has streamed in
through the Mexican border instead of the Florida Straits where improved
Coast Guard patrolling has made it more difficult to get through to the
coast.

While the figures seem big, they still pale when compared with the two
large Cuban migrant exodus events last century.

In 1980, more than 125,000 Cubans arrived during the Mariel boatlift
between April and September. More than 37,000 Cubans arrived during the
1994 rafter exodus.

While many Cubans cite a lack of future as the reason for leaving, in
recent weeks some migrants have also cited as a key factor fear that the
generous law that allows island refugees to gain admittance without
visas may be coming to an end.

As soon as President Barack Obama on Dec. 17 ordered the restoration of
normal diplomatic relations with Havana, fear spread among Cubans that
the demise of the Cuban Adjust Act of 1966 was at hand.

That spurred many Cubans who had been contemplating departure to leave
as soon as possible and those already on their way to the United States
to hasten the journey.

“We were in Panama when we first heard about this and we started talking
about this right away and we said to ourselves ‘We’ve better hurry or
we’re going to get left out,’” recalled Luis Alberto, a 30-year-old
Cuban migrant who arrived at the Mexican border with a group Jan. 3.

Siblings Victor and Mayelin Diéguez left their jobs in a Camagüey
government supermarket and speeded up their departure as U.S. and Cuban
officials met in Havana for the beginning of normalization talks.

“This is a preference that we have as Cubans and thus it’s natural for
us to take advantage of it,” Victor said. “This is why we hurried up. I
was thinking about coming in March but I hurried up thinking there would
be a deal” between the governments.

Mayelin was more blunt in her analysis: “For Cubans who stayed behind to
see the results of these negotiations will have to wait 15 or 20 years.”

The U.S. Coast Guard stepped up patrolling of the Florida Straits after
it noticed an uptick in the Cuban migrant flow following the
presidential announcement.

Coast Guard figures, which include interdictions, landings and sightings
of Cuban migrants also indicate an increase in the overall Cuban migrant
flow.

The spike in Cuban migrants in the Florida Straits prompted the Coast
Guard to reaffirm that U.S. policy remains unchanged despite Obama’s
announcement.

“The administration’s recent announcement regarding Cuba does not affect
immigration policies including wet foot/dry foot or the Cuban Adjustment
At — which only Congress can hange,” Rear Adm. Jake Korn, Coast Guard
7th District commander, said in a statemnent.

When U.S. envoys met with Cuban officials in Havana two weeks ago, they
made it clear that no change in the Cuban Adjustment Act was planned.

“I would like to emphasize that a there is no plan to change U.S.
policy” or the Cuban Adjustment Act, which can also be eliminated or
substantially by Congress.

Coast Guard officials said Friday that they have seen a slowdown in the
Cuban migrant flow in the last two weeks, after it became clear the
Cuban Adjustment Act remained unchanged.

Nevertheless, Cuban officials involved in negotiations with the United
States said U.S. officials have some flexibility in how they interpret
and implement provisions of the law.

Ira Kurzban, a Miami immigration lawyer considered a national authority
on immigration law, said U.S. officials could interpret the Cuban
Adjustment Act in a more restrictive way perhaps making it more
difficult for Cuban migrants to qualify.

“They cannot alter the statute,” he said. “But they can interpret it
more restrictively.”

As Cuban and American officials met in Havana, Miami-Dade Commissioners
passed a resolution asking Congress to review the Cuban Adjustment Act
and perhaps limit it to refugees from political persecution.

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Democracy Movement, said the
commission’s move was ‘imprudent” because it could spur an exodus.

“That causes deaths,” he said. “That causes people to die and go missing
in the Straits of Florida, just because of politicking.”

Source: Cuban migrants flow into South Florida at highest rate in 10
years | The Miami Herald The Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article8913872.html

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