Number of Cubans Defecting To the United States Growing
By EMILY DERUY and CRISTINA COSTANTINI (@xtinatini)
Nov. 26, 2012
The number of Cuban defectors coming to the United States is on the rise.
Nearly 1,300 Cuban immigrants were detained by the U.S. Coast Guard in
the 2012 fiscal year. In contrast, only 422 Cubans were detained in
2010. Officials say that more Cubans are also crossing the Mexican and
Canadian borders and arriving by air from countries like Spain and
Ecuador, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
The increase in Cuban defectors coincides with the introduction of a new
law on the island which will ease punishments for those who left without
authorization and now want to return to visit the island.
The new policy, set to be implemented in January, will make re-entry
easier for those who have defected after 1990. In the past, even famous
Cuban musicians, actors, and athletes have been denied permission to
return to their homeland, including famed salsa singer Celia Cruz who
frequently lamented her inability to return home.
Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American
Studies at the University of Miami, said that Cubans have more
flexibility in getting out of Cuba now.
"They're doing away with the requirements, except buying passports," he
said in an interview with ABC/Univision News.
Suchlicki added that embassies of Latin American countries in Cuba,
particularly Ecuador, are providing a significant number of visas for
Cubans to fly to those countries and then make their way to the United
States, often by crossing the border through Mexico.
There is no exact count of the number of Cuban defectors arriving each
year, but the Sun Sentinel reports that various agencies estimate that
it may be as high as 10,000.
Just shy of 2 million Cubans lived in the United States in 2010,
according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The Pew
Hispanic Center notes that Cubans were about 3.7 percent of the
country's Hispanic population in 2010. Mexicans made up about 65 percent.
Cubans have higher education levels than U.S. Hispanics overall,
according to the Pew Hispanic Center. About a quarter of Cubans age 25
and older have a bachelor's degree compared with 13 percent of U.S.
Hispanics. Cubans also earn more on average than other U.S. Hispanics,
and they are older and less likely to have children than other Hispanics
and the U.S. general population. Nearly seven in 10 Cubans live in
Florida. Historically, many defectors from Cuba have been part of the
professional elite who fled the island when Fidel Castro came to power.
Still others, including the thousands of marielitos who came to the
United States in the 1980 Mariel boatlift were lower or middle class Cubans.
Under the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, Cubans without papers are
permitted to stay in the country once they arrive. About 20,000 Cubans
per year are also granted visas to come to the United States.
The current jump in unauthorized immigration from Cuba is the latest in
a long history of fluctuating immigration levels from the island.
Between 2005 and 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard detained more than 2,000
unauthorized Cuban immigrants each year. In 2009, there was a major drop
off in illegal immigration from Cuba, which coincided with the economic
downturn in the United States.
According to Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at
Florida International University, the increase could be the result of a
number of factors.
"It's due to the continuing economic downturn in Cuba, which is leading
a large number of people outside of Cuba," he said during an interview
with ABC/Univision News. "Short-term reasons for this rise could be that
there are a number of people who are unemployed and looking for a job in
the small private sector in Cuba who were laid off by the government and
have doubts about future prospects."
Duany added that Fidel Castro's impending death and uncertainty about
the "so-called transition" may be leading some Cubans to leave the
country, as well as changes in Cuban regulations that will take effect
While Cubans have crossed into the United States through Mexico for
years, Duany said Cubans have recently sought entrance through Santo
Domingo in the Dominican Republic. From there they pass into Puerto
Rico, a U.S. territory.
Cubans with relatives in the United States have a better chance at
getting visas to enter legally, leaving those without family in the
country searching for other means of entry.
"In general, those who come without authorization are the ones without
immediate relatives in the United States," Duany said, "That's the way
the law is set up, so those people have a better chance. But many people
don't have mothers or brothers in the U.S. and they're forced to use
other means, and typically they will cross the border without
"There is disappointment with the changes Raúl Castro is introducing and
the perception that it's not going to go anywhere and that Cuba is going
to be a disaster," Suchlicki said. "There is a tremendous
disillusionment and people want to get out of Cuba."