They keep coming.
The latest official figures show that the number of Cuban migrants crossing the Mexican border or showing up at international airports without visas is close to matching the total number of arrivals in fiscal year 2015, which was the largest number in a decade.
According to the latest figures released this week by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the total number of Cubans who have crossed the border or arrived at airports seeking to stay under the Cuban Adjustment Act between Oct. 1 and April 30 is 35,652. If arrivals continue at the same pace, the total for the current fiscal year could exceed the total for fiscal year 2015, which was 43,159.
The overall number of Cuban migrants arriving or attempting to arrive in the United States without visas spiked noticeably after President Barack Obama in December 2014 announced a historic shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba, ordering the restoration of diplomatic relations, which had been broken under President Dwight Eisenhower in 1961.
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Many Cubans interviewed by el Nuevo Herald in recent months have said that more people are leaving Cuba for the United States because they are fearful that the new relationship between the United States and Cuba soon will lead to the end of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy. Cubans say they're also upset about the lack of political change in Cuba in the aftermath of the U.S. diplomatic change.
“There is great frustration among Cubans after the restoration of relations,” said Juan Ramón Osorio, a young Cuban who recently crossed the U.S. border after arriving from Panama. “People expected change, and what they got was tremendous lack of change, which has caused great desperation. The second reason is the fear that at any moment they might revoke the Adjustment Law and no one wants to be stuck inside Cuba without liberty and in hardship.”
In a statement issued with the figures Thursday, CBP said no change in policy toward Cuba is being contemplated.
“The Administration has no plans to change the current immigration policy toward Cuba or seek legislative change regarding the Cuban Adjustment Act,” CBP's statement said.
Under the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans interdicted at sea are generally returned to the island, but if they reach U.S. soil they are allowed to stay and under the Cuban Adjustment Act they can apply for permanent residence after more than a year in the United States.
Cubans have traditionally fled to the United States by sea. But as the U.S. Coast Guard improved its patrol methods in the Florida Straits, Cubans switched their escape route to Mexico and other Latin American countries.
At first, Cubans traveled on boats to the Mexican Yucatán Peninsula and then traveled by land to the U.S. border arriving largely through Laredo, Brownsville or McAllen.
Then many Cuban migrants switched to Ecuador when that country granted visa-free entry, a policy since rescinded.
Though Ecuador and Central American countries have made it more difficult for Cuban migrants to cross their territory to reach the United States, the Cubans keep coming — many using the services of migrant smugglers to accomplish their goal.
Thousands of Cuban migrants are now stranded in Ecuador and Panama — unable to proceed further north because of new travel restrictions.
About 4,500 Cubans stuck in Ecuador have asked Mexico for humanitarian visas to be able to reach the U.S. border. Observers say there are more Cubans in Ecuador who eventually may make their way to the American border. In the last four years, Ecuador granted 26,936 visitor visas and 16,738 permanent residence visas to Cubans. Many of these Cubans likely have already arrived in the United States but many others have not.
In Panama, there are an estimated 350 Cubans cleared to leave for the U.S. border but they cannot afford the ticket. In addition, observers say there may be about 100 others awaiting permission to depart for the border.
Cuban migrants are also heading to the U.S. from other countries in the world including Guyana, Colombia, Spain, France, Russia and Canada.