Burgeoning numbers of Cubans are trying to get into the U.S. by way of the Mexican border, creating a big backlog of people waiting on the Mexican side for months for their chance to apply for asylum.
By Cedar Attanasio, Elliot Spagat and Michael Weissenstein
The surge over the past several months has been propelled in part by loosened travel restrictions in Central America and deteriorating living conditions in Cuba.
As a result, about 4,500 asylum seekers, the vast majority of them Cuban, have descended on Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas — an influx that has raised tensions with some locals.
“It’s a bottleneck with an opening that is getting smaller,” said Enrique Valenzuela, an official of Mexico’s Chihuahua state, which manages Juarez’s waiting list. “People keep coming.”
For decades during the Cold War and beyond, Cubans tried to reach the U.S. by air, land and sea, many of them crossing the 90 miles to Florida in dangerously rickety boats and rafts.
In January 2017, though, the U.S. ended its “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy of almost automatically admitting any Cuban who managed to reach American soil. For many Cubans, their best option is going to the U.S.-Mexican border and claiming asylum.
For many years, Cubans entering through the southern border generally flew to South America and tried to come into the U.S. at Laredo, Texas. But now many are using a relatively new and shorter route: They fly to Panama or Nicaragua, pay smugglers to help them reach the U.S. border, and seek to come across at El Paso.