The U.S. is experiencing a surge of Cubans migrating into the country in a wave not seen in decades, according to officials.
More than 140,000 Cubans have fled the island from October to May, a tenfold increase from the fiscal year 2020, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The recent wave is greater than the Mariel exodus of 1980, when 125,000 Cubans fled the island.
"The scale of the numbers is really historic," Michael Bustamante, the Emilio Bacardí Moreau Chair in Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami and an associate professor of history, told ABC News.
And as American border agents have increased their patrols to address the rise in Cubans arriving by boat or through the border, an international relations expert tells ABC News that the situation is likely to get bigger as economic woes plague the island's residents.
"People [are] waiting in long lines and a lot of people are fed up," Bustamante said.
He said the main factor behind the flight is economics, as Cuba is facing its worse crisis in 30 years. The pandemic and the lack of tourism, which is a source of income for many businesses, have taken their toll, according to Bustamente.
"Things are tough. Inflation is high...There are shortages of all kinds," he said.
Frank, a 35-year-old Cuban who asked ABC News not to use his full name, said he and his family have been feeling the pinch and are ready to make that move. He told ABC News that he and his wife sold their Havana home to buy tickets to Nicaragua, which lifted visa requirements for Cuban nationals in November, and eventually plan to migrate to the U.S.
"[The U.S.] has a structure that allows people to advance in life both economically, politically and socially. They do not have as many obstacles as other countries to get ahead if you put effort to work and get ahead as we should be able to have here," he told ABC News.
Aside from entering through the border, U.S. officials say Cubans have also arrived by sea, in boats or rafts outside Florida.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it has increased the number of patrols between the U.S. and Cuba to look for suspicious activity and to respond to distress calls. The Coast Guard reported last year that 114 Cuban migrants were interdicted between October 2019 and September 2020 by the agency and other U.S. law enforcement forces.
Ten Cuban migrants in a sinking vessel were rescued off the Florida coast in February, according to the Coast Guard.
Bustamante said that the U.S. needs to focus on addressing the immigration reform instead of the crackdown at the border.
A political spat between the Trump administration and Cuba led to the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba and the stoppage of visa approvals. The Biden administration has allowed Cubans to apply for visas, and has granted 2,000 annually over the past two years, according to federal data.
"Asylum and refugee systems are broken. They've been broken for a long time. They're overtaxed," Bustamante said.
In the meantime, thousands of Cubans like Frank say they are willing to take that risk for a better future.
"Deep down they want you to get ahead, but deep down what you have is sadness because you are leaving many people behind," he said.
ABC News' Victoria Moll Ramirez and Caterina Barbera contributed to this report.