The number of Cubans finding their way into the United States through Mexico is exploding, according to Mexican immigration records. So far this year, about 2,300 Cubans have been detained in Mexico on their way to the U.S. The number is expected to reach 3,500 by December. This is a 400 percent jump when compared to last year, when migratory stations tallied only 762 Cubans.
Cubans who reach American soil receive a different migratory status than other foreign citizens. However, getting into the United States is hard. Instead of risking their lives by going directly from Cuba to Florida on improvised boats, more Cubans are now traveling to countries that don't ask them for a visa, like Ecuador. From there, they can safely reach the U.S.-Mexico border.
While it might seem that Cuba's announcement on Tuesday to no longer ask its citizens to secure exit permits would further encourage Cubans to head north, that's not likely.
According to Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, there won't be a significant change because countries such as Mexico or the U.S. won't automatically shift their policies to allow more Cuban immigration. In other words, the number of available visas for them will remain the same. Currently, most Cubans travel to Ecuador because they can get a visa via the Ecuadorian embassy in Havana. Once in Ecuador, they travel through Mexico to get to the United States.
The Mexican government's statistics reflect this pattern of migration. Ninety percent of all undocumented Cubans were caught in Chiapas, the state that shares its border with Guatemala, according to the Mexican government. In Quintana Roo, the closest Mexican state to Cuba, only 2 percent of undocumented Cubans were detained. Since 2008, when Ecuador ended visa requirements for Cuban nationals, thousands of people from the island have traveled there. Last year alone 24,000 Cuban nationals did just that.
When Cubans arrive in Mexico, they are detained by the government to check their migratory status, but once it's confirmed that they are Cubans, most of them are released. Out of the 2,300 Cubans detained in Mexico until August 2012, only 247 were deported.
Two issues tend to crop up. First off, Cuba will not accept citizens who have been away from the island for more than 11 months (now, with the reforms, the period will be extended to 24 months). Those who travel and stay abroad for extended periods of time could end up in immigration "limbo." In some cases it means they can't return to their home country.
Nobody knows what is happening to them after they are freed because the Mexican government is not following up on their whereabouts. However, the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico offers a glimpse of what is happening. Between 2008 and 2009 there were 9,758 cases of crimes against immigrants. The most common crimes were extortion, forcing victims to carry drugs to the U.S., enrolling men as part of criminal organizations, and prostituting women, according to that public institute. Five hundred of the reported cases involved Cubans.
Although Cuba is not accepting citizens who have been away from the island for more than 11 months (now, with the reforms, the period will be extended to 24 months). Those who travel and stay abroad for extended periods of time, therefore, end up in an immigration status "limbo" that, in some cases, prevents them from returning to their country, further heightening the appeal of reaching the U.S.