For nearly 60 years, U.S. relations with Cuba have been, well, tepid at best. There’s a history of division deeply rooted in Cold War fears, economic sanctions, and diplomatic isolation.
But today, the relationship between Cuba and America looks a bit different. Relations are thawing in what many believe will lead to a pathway to normalization. And no one is paying closer attention to this than the Cuban people.
So if relations are on the mend, why are thousands of Cuban immigrants rushing to the U.S.? Muzaffar Chishti is director of the Migration Policy Institute‘s New York office. We speak to the immigration think tank leader about what’s at stake.
Chishti says Cuban migrants are arriving in Texas at record rates. It’s been a trend that has been developing in anticipation of the president’s announcement of normalization of relations with Cuba last year. “Since then, we have noticed a couple things,” he says. “We have noticed that interjection of Cuban nationals on the high seas has increased since December. More importantly, we have noticed that the number of Cuban nationals who arrive on our border principally in Texas from Mexico has increased. We believe that this fiscal year, which ends in September, it may reach up to 24,000 people who will try to cross the border.”
Chishti says there’s no data on what has caused this sudden surge in Cuban immigration, but there has been some expert speculation. “Experts who have talked to people on both sides of the border suggests that it is driven by the understanding of many Cuban nationals that we have a unique law that gives extraordinary preference to Cuban nationals who arrive in the United States,” he says.
The law is from 1966, it’s called the Cuban Adjustment Act and was passed in the aftermath of the Cold War and the crisis in Cuba. “The law says that every Cuban National who arrives on our shores – whether illegally, legally, whether they came as a visitor and overstayed – they are entitled to get a Green Card one year after they stay in the United States,” Chishti says. “There is fear among many Cuban nationals that with the normalization of relations with Cuba and the United States, that that special privilege which comes through the law may be repealed.”
It’s possible, he says, that Cubans are trying to cross before that happens.