Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Miami-Dade ready to ‘absorb’ thousands of Cubans stranded in Central America

Cuban migrants sit outside a Costa Rican immigration building on the border with Nicaragua, in Penas Blancas, Costa Rica, after Nicaragua closed its border to all Cuban migrants, leaving them stuck in Costa Rica. This photo was taken Nov. 16, 2015.
Cuban migrants sit outside a Costa Rican immigration building on the border with Nicaragua, in Penas Blancas, Costa Rica, after Nicaragua closed its border to all Cuban migrants, leaving them stuck in Costa Rica. This photo was taken Nov. 16, 2015. AP

How ironic is this juncture: The multi-agency emergency plan to deal with a regime change in Cuba is being dusted off to tackle another exodus.

The now 8,000 Cubans stranded in Central America were told that they (or their families abroad) can buy a San Jose-Mexico City plane ticket, then take a bus to the U.S. border — and announce their arrival for ready-made entry.

Miami, the capital of Cuban exiles, has no option but to stand ready for resettlement.

Not everyone has family in the United States — and although the mayor of Miami is concerned that the city’s not prepared, at the county, there’s confidence. Que vengan. Let them come.

Miami-Dade stands prepped to receive the country-hopping Cuban immigrants who end up here, a top county official tells me.

“We’re keenly aware,” Curtis Sommerhoff, the county’s director of Emergency Management says. “There is a federal plan, a state plan, and a local plan. Local is a humanitarian plan.”

Conceived after the balsero crisis of 1994 to handle immigration resulting from a Cuba regime change, there are no qualms about putting the plan to work on behalf of a continuing exodus of disaffected Cubans who don’t want to wait around for what may never come — and don’t want to lose out on residency privileges conferred by U.S. immigration law only to Cubans.

In the last fiscal year, 41,000 Cubans made it by crossing the Mexican border or arriving in South Florida in homemade boats. At one point, so many arrived that refugee resettlement agencies were maxed out. Some Cubans ended up homeless in Miami and Doral, where one agency is located. The county offered to house the Cubans with the help of the Homeless Trust. They refused, opting to sleep on the street until Cuban-American Samaritans appeared with better options, which happened.

Sommerhoff points to the handling of 26,000 Haiti earthquake victims in 2010 as an example of successful handling of a sudden influx. The assumption was that all were coming to Miami-Dade, he says, but thousands went to New York and Los Angeles. Only 7,000 required assistance from Florida, although 14,000 resettled here. So, “8,000 over a span of time when they do have family members here, you know, at a reasonable rate, our community has the ability to absorb that very well,” Sommerhoff says. “For people with children, we’ll have to work well with Miami-Dade Schools addressing that.”

After the announcement that the Cubans would be able to realize their expectations that the U.S. would open its doors, some were calling the treatment “first-class immigration.”

It was no compliment — and no wonder.

In the same breath that the deal for a “humanitarian” resolution for the stranded Cubans was reached, the Obama administration announced that it will resume this month the deportation of undocumented Central Americans — among them parents of U.S.-born children, relatives of DREAMer students enrolled in schools. They’re immigrants who, like the Cubans, want to build better lives for their families.

If history serves as meter, a second act to the new Cuban immigration will follow in 2016. A year of friendly relations later, the 57-year-old dictatorship shows no signs of democratization — but flight is guaranteed.

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