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Cubans react zealously to new US migration policy

HAVANA — In just a week, 25-year-old engineer Marcos Marzo went from riding his little electric motorbike past low-rise buildings in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood to cruising Florida’s mega-highways, marveling at skyscrapers and giant supermarkets .

A close relative told Marzo on Jan. 21 that he applied online to sponsor the young engineer’s trip to Florida, as required by the new parole program for Cuban migrants introduced by the Biden administration. The next day the sponsorship was confirmed and the next day it was approved.

With his printed permit in hand and a small blue suitcase, Marzo boarded a plane for Hialeah last Friday, shaken by the speed of it all.

“It’s been very difficult, that in seven days your life changes so drastically, it fills you with hope, but at the same time it fills you with terror,” Marzo told The Associated Press before leaving for what knew to be a personal watershed.

Overwhelmed by thousands of Cubans invading its southern border after making the dangerous journey through Central America and an increase in makeshift boats crossing the Florida Straits, the United States approved a policy change in early January that forces migrants to apply for a permit or parole online before arriving with the sponsorship of a relative or acquaintance in the United States

The Cubans, who qualify for the program along with the Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans, responded zealously, launching a search for sponsors and long lines for documents. Funders of the program hope it will help would-be migrants avoid the hazards of the route through Mexico – plagued by traffickers – and bring order to the flow of migrants.

“That option came like a light,” said Marzo, who lived with his parents in Havana. Now in the United States, his dream is to do a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and work as an engineer, which he says is his passion.

According to figures from US border authorities, in the 2021-2022 fiscal year – which began in October last year and ended in September – authorities had a record 224,000 encounters with Cuban migrants. at the Mexican border. In October 2022 there were 29,878 arrested Cuban migrants, in November 35,881 and in December 44,064.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard intercepted 6,182 Cubans attempting to arrive by sea in the 2021-22 fiscal year. Add to that 4,795 over the past three months.

All figures are records and come amid a severe economic crisis on the island caused by the coronavirus pandemic, inefficiencies in economic reforms and a sweeping tightening of US sanctions, which seek to put pressure on his government to change its model. Power outages, shortages, inflation, long fuel lines and dollarization marked parts of 2021 and 2022 in Cuba, as the country saw its first street protests in decades with thousands of people demanding an end to power outages.

Until January 5, Cubans arriving at Mexico’s northern border obtained permits allowing them to enter US territory, assuming there was a credible fear preventing them from returning to the island. Later, they usually ended up with refugee benefits and a year later, the protection of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Then the Biden administration unveiled its new policy: 30,000 migrants will be accepted each month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. Migrants can stay for up to two years but must have a sponsor already in place in the United States. Those who risk reaching the borders without authorization would be deported and could not enter American territory for five years.

There are still questions about the program, including how many people from each of the four countries will be accepted.

And the program is not without controversy in Cuba amid the migration boom of recent months, since many people had already started their journey to the United States on the previous route. Some had even sold houses and cars to make the journey through Central America, which begins with a flight to Nicaragua and continues through Mexico to the US border. It is a road rife with dangers and human traffickers.

Yudith Cardozo, a 46-year-old housewife, said the new parole program is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that could save lives.

“Nicaragua is total risk, Mexico, this whole trip is total risk,” she said.

Marzo admitted that he considered migrating through the “volcanoes” route, as Cubans commonly call the trip to Central America, but his parents talked him out of it. The number of people who died during the trip is unknown.

Cardozo, speaking while waiting outside a government office to obtain birth certificates and a criminal record certificate, said a relative in the United States initiated the process as her 16-year-old son’s godfather. years and her husband, but in three weeks they had received no response.

Many Cubans wishing to migrate cannot apply for the program because they do not have a sponsor in the United States.

On social media, memes quickly spread about Cubans rediscovering distant cousins ​​or previously unknown uncles in the United States, and the US Embassy warned Cubans to be careful to avoid fraud. and even human trafficking.

Meanwhile, Cubans crowd public offices to apply for passports and other documents, in some cases forming pre-dawn queues. The AP found that the postage stamps needed for the process have become scarce.

Some experts defend the program but acknowledge that without a recovery in the Cuban economy, it is unlikely to reduce the record number of departures.

Biden’s widespread use of humanitarian parole has been sharply criticized by proponents of more restrictive immigration policies, including Stephen Miller, a former senior adviser to President Donald Trump. Texas and 19 other Republican-run states have sued to end the policy, arguing it is effectively an amnesty for 360,000 people a year. Many on the left welcome the policy but warn it cannot be used as a substitute for asylum. .

The parole program “will go some way to making Cuban migration safer, more orderly and legal,” said William LeoGrande, a political scientist at the American University in Washington. “But the number of Cubans trying to come to the United States right now is so huge that the parole program is not large enough to meet the demand.”


Andrea Rodríguez is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

ABC News

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