WASHINGTON – The United States’ diplomatic opening with Cuba has spurred a seemingly unintended consequence: a flood of Cubans taking to makeshift rafts to get to the U.S. illegally due to concerns that a quick path to legal residency could end.
The Coast Guard said that it stopped 481 Cuban migrants in 37 events in December. That’s up 117 percent from December 2013, with most attempting to come after the governments in Washington and Havana announced they would renew diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961.
The Coast Guard sent 121 Cuba migrants it stopped in the last week to Bahia de Cabañas, Cuba, the service said on Monday. In the first five days of 2015, 96 Cuban migrants have been interdicted at sea in seven separate events in the Florida Straits, officials said.
The surge is prompted by concerns that the United States may end its “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy with Cuban migrants, officials said. The policy says that Cubans who are intercepted at sea trying to get the United States illegally will be sent back to Cuba or a third country, while those who make it to American soil are allowed to stay and apply for a change in immigration status after one year.
The Coast Guard said it intercepted 3,378 migrants in fiscal 2014, up from 2,094 the year before. Of those 3,378 migrants, 2,059 came from Cuba. Other leading countries included Haiti (949), the Dominican Republic (293) and Mexico (48).