Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
New arrivals have seen a dramatic rise since the two countries resumed diplomatic relations.
Since that news, Cubans have rushed to America in droves—one of the biggest waves of immigration in recent years. In fiscal 2015, more than 43,000 Cubans arrived in the U.S. via various ports of entry, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by the Pew Research Center. That’s a dizzying 78 percent increase over the 2014 fiscal year, when the total number of Cuban immigrants entering the U.S. was just above 24,000.
The number of Cubans coming to America has been rising steadily over the last 5 years, accelerated by the Castro government’s decision to ease travel restrictions in 2013. The jump in immigration from 2014 to 2015 was much more dramatic than any single-year rise since 2005. And just from January to March this year—the months right after Obama’s announcement—more than twice the number of Cubans arrived than over the same period in 2014.
A big reason for this incredible surge is a U.S. law that offers Cubans preferential treatment as immigrants. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 and its 1995 update, known as the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, allow Cuban citizens who manage to reach American borders the opportunity to enter and stay, putting them on the path to legal permanent residence. The law was originally designed to provide easy shelter to political refugees fleeing Fidel Castro’s regime in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
But now lawmakers are pushing to end it on the grounds that Cuban immigrants no longer warrant special treatment under U.S. law since the two countries are on better terms. Cubans, meanwhile, are trying to take advantage of the law while it lasts. Though the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted 3,500 Cubans traveling to America by sea so far in 2015, the number of Cubans who entered the U.S. through Miami was twice that of the previous year, Pew reports.
To avoid being sent back home, many Cubans have been taking a detour through countries in Latin America, such as Ecuador, arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border. In 2015, two-thirds of all Cubans immigrating to the U.S. came through Texas’s Laredo Customs and Border Patrol entryway. More than 28,000 Cubans came through that checkpoint this year, up 82 percent from 2014.