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12/08/13 - Sacramento Bee - Surge of Cuban migrants tallied in past fiscal year 

MIAMI _ In mid-July, a public health clinic in Miami faced such a sharp
increase in new Cuban migrants walking in for required health screenings
that it had to expand its hours of operation.

The number of Cubans going to the Florida State Department of Health clinic
surged by 20 percent that June, compared with the three-year average for
the month, and experts around South Florida saw similar increases in

By the end of August the clinic had returned to its regular hours.

Cuban migrant arrivals in South Florida have now subsided. But at least
44,000 arrived in the United States in fiscal year 2013, which ended Sept.
30. It was the highest total since 1994 and 10 percent higher than the
estimated 40,000 arrivals in fiscal year 2012.

Several factors contributed to the increase: More 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
fiscal year 2013, a slight drop from the 26,720 in the previous year,
according to U.S. government figures. Washington promised to issue at least
20,000 migrant visas a year to Cubans after the 1994 "Rafter Crisis,"
during which 35,000 migrants took 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 to live in the
United States in recent years, suggesting 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 fiscal year 2005 and a 27 percent hike
over the 10,315 reported for all of fiscal year 2012.

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
head north.

"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,
travelling by land to Mexico without proper travel permits and crossing the
border four months ago.

Another group of Cuban migrants, whose size is unknown but is widely
believed to be growing, has been arriving from Spain, where a deep economic
crisis and unemployment over 20 percent have been driving out some of the
125,000 Cubans who live there.

"There's no work for anyone over there," said Havana native Varinia
Colunga, 40, who lived in Spain for 23 years. Using her Spanish passport,
she flew to Miami as a tourist in July and will receive residency after one
year under the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA).

An estimated 100,000 Cubans obtained Spanish citizenship in recent years
under a Madrid law to benefit the descendants of Spanish migrants.
Although many remain in Cuba, all can enter the United States as tourists
and obtain residency under the CAA.

One category of migrants that shrank was involved Cubans who arrived by
sea, from 423 in FY12 to 359 in FY13, perhaps because of tight U.S. Coast
Guard patrols, or perhaps because it's easier to leave the island legally
after the Jan. 14 migration reforms.

Havana officials reported that 226,877 Cubans made personal trips abroad in
the first 10 months of this year, a sharp increase from 167,688 in the
comparable period in 2012. The average from 2000 to 2011 was 82,000 per
year, a low number for a nation of 11 million people.

The numbers show why the migration reforms have become the most popular
changes enacted by Cuba President Raul Castro since he succeeded ailing
brother Fidel in 1998.

He removed the hated government exit permit known as the "white card";
ended the confiscation of properties of those who emigrate; and expanded
from 11 to 24 months the time that Cubans can remain abroad without losing
benefits such as free healthcare. That means they can live in the United
States for one year, obtain U.S. residence under the CAA and return to the
island in time to preserve their Cuban residence.

Experts on Cuban migration said part of the fiscal year 2013 increase was
triggered by the talk in Miami and Washington in late 2012 and early 2013
about the possibility of tightening the CAA.

Some of the arrivals have been settling in cities with better job
opportunities and lower costs of living than Miami such as Houston, Dallas,
Fort Worth, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Peter Stranges of Catholic Charities in Houston, one of several agencies
that assist Cuban migrants in that part of Texas, said his agency alone
assisted 600 Cubans in the one-year period ending in May of 2013, compared
to 150 in the previous period.

In a back-of-the-envelope calculation, Teo Babun, executive director of
EchoCuba, which helps independent churches in Cuba, estimated that each
migrant arriving in South Florida costs taxpayers $19,000 for housing,
health insurance and other services.

But Randolph P. McGrorty of Catholic Charities Legal Services of Miami,
said South Florida over the years has built an efficient intake system
capable of handling large numbers of Cuban migrants. "I don't see signs of
any strain," he said.


(c)2013 The Miami Herald

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