Just across the border from El Paso, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, thousands of asylum-seekers await hearings in the United States. Many of them are from Central America – something the news media have reported on for months. But what is less well-known is that many other asylum-seekers waiting in Juárez are from Cuba.
The Houston Chronicle’s Lomi Kriel recently met many of them, and says Cubans make up about 80% of those waiting in Juárez.
“Overwhelmingly, the families coming through Juárez and crossing into El Paso … are from Guatemala and Honduras,” Kriel says. “The number of migrants waiting in Juarez tend to be mostly Cuban; they’re not crossing like the Central American families are.”
She says in the past, the U.S. “wet-foot, dry-foot” immigration policy used to expedite the green card process for Cubans seeking asylum. But President Barack Obama ended that policy in 2017. Initially, the number of Cuban asylum-seekers fell after that, but now, their numbers are growing.
“It’s on track to almost double the number who came in 2018,” Kriel says.
She says one of the reasons is related to new U.S. sanctions on Cuba, which could negatively effect the country’s economy. Also, she says there are food shortages in Cuba, partly due to its economic relationship with Venezuela – a country that’s in the midst of its own crises. More generally, she says Cubans fear that it will only become more difficult to get into the U.S., so they’re coming now.
Kriel says despite Obama changing Cuban immigration policy, Cubans still have some advantages compared to other migrants because of the Cuban Adjustment Act. That’s why she says they’re waiting in Juárez instead of taking their chances crossing illegally to claim asylum.
“If they come in at a port of entry and are ‘paroled’ in, after a year and a day they can still qualify for a green card,” Kriel says. “Because this has sort of been the way that Cubans have done this for decades, they tend to wait to legally request asylum because they know they could still qualify for that advantage.”
But because of new Trump administration policies, there’s a larger-than-normal number of Cubans waiting in Juárez to have their asylum hearings. So-called metering limits the number of asylum claims the U.S. processes daily, so it’s created a backlog, which means more Cubans are waiting.
Kriel says the media have largely missed this Cuban contingent of asylum-seekers because there are simply so many more Central American migrants crossing into the U.S. right now.
“They are really driving this migration crisis and overwhelming U.S. authorities,” Kriel says. “Something like more than 53,000 have crossed so far this year in the El Paso Sector, whereas only about 8,300 Cubans turned themselves in at ports of entry so far.”
Nonetheless, the number of Cubans seeking asylum is growing, even surpassing that of Salvadorans.
“For the first time, in December, Cubans made up the top three nationalities requesting asylum at the border … to join Guatemalans and Hondurans, and that wasn’t the case before,” Kriel says.
Written by Caroline Covington.