Cuban immigration to U.S. surges as relations warm

utalogoby Jens Manuel Krogstad, Pew Hispanic Center

FT_15.09.30_cubans_sharpIncrease_200pxThe number of Cubans who have entered the U.S. has spiked dramatically since President Obama announced in December a renewal of ties with the island nation, a Pew Research Center analysis of government data has found. The U.S. has since opened an embassy in Havana, a move supported by a large majority of Americans, and public support is growing for ending the trade embargo with Cuba.

Cubans seeking to enter the U.S. may receive special treatment under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. Those hoping to live in the U.S. legally need only show up at a port of entry and pass an inspection, which includes a check of criminal and immigration history in the U.S. After a year in the country, they may apply for legal permanent residence.

Overall, 27,296 Cubans entered the U.S. via ports of entry during the first nine months of the just-ended 2015 fiscal year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained through a public records request. This represents a 78% increase over the same time period the previous year, when 15,341 Cubans entered. And those 2013 numbers had already increased dramatically after the Cuban government lifted travel restrictions. These totals are significantly higher than in all of fiscal 2011, when 7,759 Cubans came into the U.S. 

The spike in the number of Cubans entering the country came in the months immediately following the president’s announcement. From January to March 2015, 9,371 Cubans entered, more than double the 4,296 who arrived during the same time period in 2014.

FT_15.09.30_cubans_05_15_310The majority of Cubans who entered the country arrived through the U.S. Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector in Texas, which borders Mexico. During the first nine months of fiscal 2015, two-thirds (18,397) of all Cubans came through this sector, a 66% increase from the same time period in the previous fiscal year.

However, the largest percentage increase occurred in the Miami sector, which operates in several states, but primarily in Florida. The number of Cubans who entered in the Miami sector during the first nine months of fiscal 2015 more than doubled from the previous year, from 2,992 to 7,167. (A smaller number of Cubans also entered through the El Paso, San Diego and Tucson sectors.)

Not all Cubans who attempt to enter the U.S. make it. Under current U.S. policy, Cubans caught trying to reach the U.S. by sea are returned to Cuba or, if they cite fear of prosecution, to a third country. In fiscal 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard apprehended 2,927 Cubans at sea, the highest number of any country. The total exceeds the 2,111 Cubans apprehended in fiscal 2014.

There are 2 million Hispanics of Cuban ancestry living in the U.S. today, but the population growth for this group is now being driven by Cuban Americans born in the U.S. rather than the arrival of new immigrants. Nevertheless, the majority (57%) of the group remains foreign born; this share has declined from 68% in 2000, despite the recent influx in Cubans entering the U.S.

is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

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