12/08/13 - Miami Herald - A sudden surge in Cuban migrants
It was mid-July, and a public health clinic in Miami was facing such a
sharp spike in new Cuban migrants walking in for their required health
screenings that it had to expand its hours of operations in a hurry.
The number of Cubans going to the Florida State Department of Health clinic
had surged by 20 percent that June, compared to the three-year average for
the month, and experts around South Florida were seeing similar spikes in
By the end of August the clinic had returned to its regular hours and
Keyler Rodriguez, 27, a hospital worker from Santa Clara who arrived in
Miami one month ago, got her health screening last week without any delays.
"I think all Cubans want to leave," joked Rodriguez, who flew from Cuba to
Ecuador one month ago and joined the clandestine stream that takes
undocumented Cubans by land through Central America to the U.S. border with
Cuban migrant arrivals in South Florida have now subsided. But at least
44,000 arrived in the United States in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30
(FY13) - the highest total since 1994 and 10 percent higher than the
estimated 40,000 arrivals in FY12.
Fueling the spike was a brew of factors: Hikes in U.S. visas issued to
Cubans; rumors that U.S. benefits for Cuban migrants might be cut; Spain's
economic crisis; Cuba's easing of its migration rules on Jan. 14; and a
crackdown on Cubans living in Ecuador.
The U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana issued 24,727 immigrant visas in
FY13, a slight drop compared to 26,720 in FY12, according to U.S.
government figures obtained by El Nuevo Herald. Washington promised to
issue at least 20,000 migrant visas to Cubans per year after the 1994
"Rafter Crisis," which saw 35,000 migrants take to homemade boats, to
discourage such risky voyages.
But the number of tourist visas issued in the same periods more than
doubled, from 14,362 to 29,927, the figures showed. U.S. officials say that
on average, 20 percent of tourist visa recipients remained in the United
States in recent years, indicating that about 6,000 of the 29,927 visitors
will become migrants.
The increase in tourist visas, sought mostly by elderly Cubans who want to
visit U.S. relatives, came as consular staffers cleared away a huge backlog
of old applications and processed an increased number of requests after the
Jan. 14 reforms.
The second largest group of Cuban migrants came over the border with
Mexico, without U.S. visas but under "dry-foot, wet-foot," the policy that
allows Cubans who set foot on U.S. land to stay but returns most of those
intercepted at sea.
Mexico border arrivals totaled 13,122 in the 11 months that ended Aug. 31,
according to the latest available Customs and Border Protection figures.
That was the highest total since FY05 and a 27 percent hike over the 10,315
reported for all of FY12.
Among the border arrivals were many who started out from Ecuador, where
friendly immigration rules allowed more than 40,000 Cubans to settle there
by 2010, but recent sweeps against undocumented migrants persuaded some to
"Things turned bad in Ecuador," said Yuraldi Medina, 41, who lived in the
South American nation for four years before he left earlier this year,
traveling by land to Mexico without proper travel permits and crossing the
border four months ago.
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