Monday, June 18, 2012

Record number of Cubans try to enter U.S.

Posted on Sunday, 06.17.12

Record number of Cubans try to enter U.S.

The number of Cubans picked up at sea or who reached the United States
has already exceeded the total for 2011.
By Juan O. Tamayo

The number of undocumented Cubans who have been intercepted at sea or
reached the United States this year has increased significantly. With 3
½ months left in the fiscal year, the number has already surpassed the
previous one-year period, according to U.S. government figures.

From Oct. 1, 2011, until last week, 8,240 undocumented Cubans had been
interdicted at sea or arrived at U.S. borders or airports, compared to
7,988 in all of fiscal 2011, which ran from Oct. 1, 2010, to Sept. 30, 2011.

Fiscal 2012 will wind up being the second in a row to have record growth
in arrivals and interdictions. The number for fiscal 2010 was 7,050,
compared to 8,113 for fiscal 2009.

The numbers include Cubans who were interdicted at sea or arrived by
boat to U.S. shores as well as those who arrived at U.S. points of entry
such as land borders and airports — the overwhelming majority of them
coming across the border with Mexico.

El Nuevo Herald obtained the data from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Border
Patrol and Customs and Border Protection. The agencies use the U.S.
government fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 of the
following year.

The categories showing the largest increases were arrivals at borders
and interdictions at sea, the majority of them in the Florida Straits.

A total of 6,434 undocumented Cubans arrived at U.S. borders in the past
nine months, 1,118 more than the 5,316 who arrived in all of 2011. The
Coast Guard reported 931 interceptions at sea in the last nine months
alone, compared to 985 in all of 2011.

Under the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans who set foot on U.S.
territory are allowed to remain, while those who are intercepted at sea
generally are returned to Cuba unless they can show a "well-grounded
fear of persecution."

Besides the undocumented arrivals, another 20,000 Cubans leave for the
United States each year under an agreement between the Fidel Castro and
Bill Clinton governments negotiated after the 1994 rafter crisis in an
attempt to stem risky escapes aboard makeshift boats.

The increase from 2011 to 2012 pushed the overall figure to its highest
level since 2008, when 16,260 undocumented Cubans arrived on U.S.
territory or were intercepted at sea. The next year it plunged to 8,113.

At the time, the drop was generally attributed to the U.S. economic
crisis, with analysts saying that Cuban families in South Florida no
longer could afford the high prices charge by the people smugglers who
were running go-fast boats between the two shores.

But today there's little agreement on why the flow of undocumented
Cubans is again on the rise.

Two migrants who arrived by boat late last month said a growing number
of people want to leave the island because the economic and political
situation is constantly deteriorating.

"The Cuban situation gets worse every 24 hours," said Leonardo Padilla
Alfonso, 60.

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Democracy Movement, said that
disillusionment with the economic reforms promised by Cuban ruler Raúl
Castro, who succeeded his ailing brother Fidel Castro in 2008, could be
a factor in the increased flow.

"There was speculation after 2008 that the reduction in the number of
Cubans (leaving) was due also to the belief that many people on the
island had hopes for change. But since those changes did not happen,
then maybe that propelled many to leave," said Sanchez, who monitors the
migration flows.

"The optimism that existed over the possible reforms has vanished," said
Jorge Núñez, 51, who arrived with Padilla.

For Coast Guard Capt. Brendan McPherson, chief of law enforcement for
the Miami-based District 7, the number of interceptions at sea does not
show a significant change when compared to those from five or six years
ago. There were 703 in 2011, compared to 2,915 in 2008.

"The activity that we're seeing now is a little bit of an increase, but
our analysts tell us that is well within the norm," McPherson said.
"We're not seeing anything that indicates there's anything that is unusual."

McPherson also attributed the recent increase in interceptions to the
tougher laws and more efficient methods that the Coast Guard is using to
crack down on people smuggling — including a law that makes it a federal
crime to fail to obey a Coast Guard order to halt.

The vast majority of the vessels intercepted by the Coast Guard these
days are rafts or "rustic" boats, McPherson said.

Núñez and Padilla, who landed in the Dry Tortugas west of Key West, said
they built their own boat because the go-fast boats have all but
disappeared from the Florida Straits in the past two years.

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