With his printed permit in hand and a small blue suitcase, Marzo boarded a plane to Hialeah last Friday, stunned by the speed of it all.
“It’s been very hard to have your life change so drastically in seven days, it fills you with hope but at the same time it fills you with fear,” Marzo told The Associated Press before going to what he knew that it would be personal watershed.
Overwhelmed by thousands of Cubans thronging its southern border after the perilous journey through Central America and a surge in makeshift boats crossing the Straits of Florida, the United States approved a policy change in early January that forces migrants to to apply for a permit or probation online before entering the USA with the sponsorship of a relative or acquaintance
Cubans, who qualify for the program along with Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans, have responded with zeal, launching a search for sponsors and long lines to obtain documents. Supporters of the program hope it will help would-be migrants avoid the risks of the trafficker-plagued route through Mexico and bring order to the flow of migrants.
“This option came like a light,” said Marzo, who had lived in Havana with his parents. Now in the US, he dreams of earning a master’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and working as an engineer, which he says is his passion.
Officials had a record 224,000 encounters with Cuban migrants at the Mexico border in fiscal year 2021-2022, which began last October and ended in September, according to US border officials. In October 2022, 29,878 Cuban migrants were detained, in November 35,881 and in December 44,064.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard intercepted 6,182 Cubans attempting to arrive by sea in FY2021-2022. Added to this are 4,795 in the last three months.
All the numbers are records and come amid a severe economic crisis on the island caused by the coronavirus pandemic, inefficiencies in economic reforms and a radical tightening of US sanctions aimed at pressuring the government to change its model change. Blackouts, shortages, inflation, long fuel lines and dollarization marked parts of 2021 and 2022 in Cuba as the country witnessed its first street demonstrations in decades, with thousands of people demanding an end to the blackouts.
By January 5, Cubans arriving at Mexico’s northern border were granted permits allowing them entry into US territory provided there was a credible fear preventing them from returning to the island. Later they usually ended up with refugee benefits and a year later the protection of the Cuban Adjustment Act.
Then the Biden government presented its new policy: 30,000 migrants are taken in every month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. The migrants can stay for up to two years but must already have a sponsor in the United States. Those who risk entering the borders without permission would be deported and barred from entering US territory for five years.
There are still questions about the program, including how many people will be admitted from each of the four countries.
And the program is not without controversy in Cuba in the course of the migrant boom of recent months, since many people had already started their journey to the USA on the previous route. Some had even sold homes and cars to make the journey across Central America, starting with a flight to Nicaragua and through Mexico to the US border. It’s a route plagued by dangers and human traffickers.
Yudith Cardozo, a 46-year-old homemaker, said the new parole program is “a unique opportunity” that could save lives.
“Nicaragua is a total risk, Mexico, all this travel is a total risk,” she said.
Marzo admitted he had considered migrating via the “Volcanoes” route, as Cubans popularly call the Central American journey, but his parents talked him out of it. The number of people who died on the journey is unknown.
Cardozo said while waiting outside a government office to obtain birth certificates and a criminal record certificate, a relative in the US started the process as a sponsor for her, her 16-year-old son and her husband, but in three weeks they had none Answer received.
Many Cubans who want to emigrate cannot apply for the program because they lack a sponsor in the United States
Memes quickly spread on social media about Cubans re-discovering distant cousins or previously unknown uncles in the United States, and the US Embassy warned Cubans to avoid fraud and even human trafficking.
Meanwhile, Cubans throng outside public offices to request passports and other documents, in some cases queuing before dawn. The AP noted that the stamps needed for the trial have become scarce.
Some experts defend the program, but concede that without a boost in Cuba’s economy, it is unlikely to see the record number of exits fall.
Biden’s widespread use of humanitarian parole has been heavily criticized by advocates of more restrictive immigration policies, including Stephen Miller, a former senior adviser to President Donald Trump. Texas and 19 other Republican-led states have sued to halt the policy, arguing it is effectively an amnesty for 360,000 people a year. Many on the left welcome the policy but warn that it cannot be a substitute for asylum. .
The parole program “will, to some extent, help make Cuban migration safer, more orderly and more legal,” said William LeoGrande, a political scientist at American University in Washington. “But the number of Cubans trying to get to the United States right now is so large that the parole program isn’t large enough to meet demand.”
Andrea Rodríguez is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP