MIAMI – The number of undocumented Cuban migrants arriving in the U.S. has quintupled over the past five years, increasing dramatically after the December 2014 announcement by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro of a normalization of relations between Washington and Havana.
Fewer than 8,000 Cubans reached the U.S. in the 2011 fiscal year, compared with more than 44,000 so far in fiscal 2016, which ends Sept. 30, Customs and Border Protection told EFE on Tuesday.
Some 60 migrants arrived in the Florida Keys in a 48-hour period earlier this week, all of them aboard barely seaworthy rafts and boats.
Cubans embark on the arduous and often dangerous journey knowing that thanks to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, they are virtually assured of being able to remain in the United States.
The 1966 legislation led to the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, under which Cubans who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay and obtain legal permanent residence, while those intercepted at sea are almost always sent back to the Communist-ruled island.
Groups representing Miami’s huge Cuban exile community blame what they call the “growing exodus” on the slow pace and superficial nature of reforms on the island, and on an intensification of political repression.
“People don’t see the possibility to prosper in their country,” Juan Antonio Blanco, director of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, told EFE, denying that fear of losing preferential immigration treatment is the “only” factor driving the increase in migration.
U.S. officials have said repeatedly that there are no plans to amend “wet foot, dry foot” or seek changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act.