A year after President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced with great fanfare their plans to normalize relations, an old source of tension has stubbornly returned, with a rush of Cubans trying to get to the United States.
The number of unauthorized Cubans arriving in the United States nearly doubled in fiscal 2015, rising to 43,159 from 24,278 the previous year, according to U.S. border officials, and the surge appears to be accelerating. Combined with the more than 20,000 who are issued immigration visas annually under existing accords, it amounts to the largest influx of Cubans into the United States in decades. Not since the Mariel boatlift of 1980, when 125,000 landed in South Florida, have so many Cubans headed north.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) say American generosity is being abused by Cuban migrants who obtain U.S. residency and then begin traveling back to the island to ferry merchandise, run small businesses or get cheap dental work.
Cubans have been streaming north by land, sea and air all year. The U.S. Coast Guard picked up 4,462 at sea during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 and has retrieved more than 900 since then. Several thousand asylum-seeking Cubans have landed in Miami, flying via the Bahamas or Cayman Islands with European passports issued in recent years to the descendants of Spanish immigrants. The largest number have come overland from Ecuador, traveling by bus and taxi through Colombia, Central America and Mexico to reach the United States.
The flood of migrants is creating–on a far smaller scale–the kinds of scenes that Europe has experienced as Middle Eastern and South Asian migrants have poured over the borders.