HAVANA, Sept. 30th As U.S. border officials report high numbers of Cuban migrants hoping to enter the country at the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) told VOA more than 10,000 people are in the pipeline of the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) program.
CFRP provides a pathway to the United States for certain Cubans with approved family-based immigrant petitions.
“Expanding access to lawful migration pathways offers migrants safe and orderly alternatives to irregular migration and its numerous dangers and indignities,” a USCIS spokesperson wrote in an email to VOA.
This means resuming operations of the CFRP program where Cubans living in the U.S. as American citizens or legal permanent residents can petition certain family members who then receive an invitation letter and are allowed to apply for parole in the United States.
With approved parole, these family members are then allowed to travel to the United States. Once in the U.S., CFRP program beneficiaries can apply for employment authorization while they wait to apply for permanent residency status.
New invitations have not been issued since September 2016.
“(USCIS) is collaborating closely with interagency partners to effectively rebuild the capacity in Havana needed to conduct CFRP program interviews. … We are not issuing new invitation letters at this time as we work through the pending caseload. USCIS will update its website and make public announcements when it issues the next round of CFRP program invitation notices,” the spokesperson wrote.
But even with a family reunification path to the U.S. available, border officials at the U.S.-Mexico border reported 178,000 Cubans were encountered crossing the border in the fiscal year 2022.
The current exodus has surpassed the number of Cubans fleeing the island during the Mariel boatlift in 1980 and the Balsero crisis in 1994.
“[This] is the result of multiple causes,” María Espinosa, an economist and foreign policy expert at the Center for Democracy in the Americas, told VOA. She said this particular flow “is being impacted by the government’s repressive reaction to the July 11 [in 2021] protests and the aftermath.
With the detention and harassment of civil society and the censorship of independent media, we’re seeing many young Cubans migrate.”
Espinosa is talking about demonstrations in Cuba last year where the population took to the streets in dozens of cities to demand changes in living conditions, urging solutions to shortages of food, medicine and personal hygiene items. They were also fighting constant blackouts and a lack of electricity on the island.
Immigration to the US
While some migrants have the option to be sponsored by family members, others choose often dangerous paths to reach the United States.
On Thursday, U.S. Chief Patrol Agent Walter Slosar said on Twitter that nine Cuban migrants were safely located and rescued after border patrol officers responded to a call of Cuban migrants landing on Stock Island, Florida.
Two migrants swam to shore after their vessel sank due to inclement weather. Search and rescue operations remain ongoing for 14 other Cuban migrants who are still missing.
Cubans, who often arrive in the U.S. by crossing at the southern border without authorization, face a lower risk of being deported or expelled under Title 42 — a public health authority that has been used to block asylum to thousands of migrants of other nationalities due to COVID-19.
Ricardo Torres, a Cuban economist and research fellow at the American University, said Cuban authorities were expecting an important recovery in 2022. But with recent events, including a massive fire in August that worsened blackouts and the effects of the pandemic, recovery is happening “very slowly.”
“So slowly, that it is not really making a difference in the lives of ordinary Cubans. … Part of the reaction to that crisis. is, you know, leaving the country, essentially,” Torres said.
Torres explained that between 2014 and 2016, the changes under the Obama administration allowed for a generation of Cuban entrepreneurs to take advantage of opportunities and develop businesses. But by 2019, the enthusiasm to start new businesses or invest in new ventures was gone as significant restrictions were enacted under the Trump administration.
“We’re talking about a situation that started roughly in 2018. So, it’s been already a number of years in which Cubans are seeing their living standards dropping, and more importantly, right now, they don’t see a way out of this crisis. They don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Torres said.
While addressing world leaders at the recent U.N. General Assembly, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said, “The Cuban economy has withstood extraordinary pressure, which is having an impact on industry service provision, leading to scarcity in food and medicine, and leading to a decline in consumption and thus resulting in a decline in the general well-being of our people.”
Rodríguez commended the return of visa processing at the U.S. embassy in Havana and reiterated Cuba’s readiness to move toward better relations with the United States.
Besides reinstating the family reunification program, in May, the Biden administration announced a series of measures to restore engagement with Cuba, including an increase in capacity for consular services at the U.S. embassy in Havana to process immigration services, authorization of flights from U.S. destinations to cities in Cuba other than Havana and removal of limits on remittances established under the Trump administration.
Staffing limitations still mean some people applying for immigrant and nonimmigrant U.S. visas have to travel to the U.S. embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, the closest country that does not require visas for Cubans.
On Sept. 21, the U.S. government announced for the first time since 2017, full immigrant visa process in Havana will resume in early 2023.
Although Cuban experts called the measures “good news,” they said they hope the administration continues to expand opportunities for the private sector and provide more pathways for Cubans to migrate in safe, humane and orderly conditions.
“But we need to keep working with Congress to make [these] changes more permanent,” Espinosa, of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said.