Cuban Immigrants Are Seeking Asylum at the US-Mexico Border

Cuban nationals who have left the island are trekking across South and Central America in hopes of applying for asylum in the US.

NBC News recently profiled a Cuban family who had to cross the treacherous border between Colombia and Panama, and even survived a car accident in Peru. For many Cubans in the past, the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy offered the chance to apply for a fast-track permanent residency once they land on US soil. The measure, however, ended after the Obama administration normalized relations with the island in 2014. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cubans who arrived in the US as tourists or undetected may still adjust their legal status after keeping a low profile for a year and one day, NBC News added. But it has been harder for Cubans to cross the dangerous Florida Strait because they would face deportation once US authorities apprehend them.

For this reason, hundreds of Cubans opt to travel to South America to take on the strenuous journey of crossing Central America in order to reach the US-Mexico border. A database from Syracuse University found that judges reached a verdict in 59 asylum request cases filed by Cubans during the 2016 fiscal year, but that number skyrocketed to 245 the following year. In 2018, 455 asylum requests from Cuban migrants were decided, but six in 10 were denied, the news outlet indicated. Meanwhile, nearly 3,500 Cubans were dismissed at the US-Mexico border between October of 2018 to May of 2018.

As Cubans keep reaching the border, Mexican volunteers and nonprofits scramble to make some space and provide shelter for new arrivals, particularly in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. Though migrants flee from dire circumstances in their places of origin, Cubans have expressed in the past that they wouldn’t want to be associated with Central Americans because those from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras do not face the same problems as Cubans do.

“They live in free countries. They have the possibility of working and getting ahead. Why should we be treated like them?” Cuban migrant Eloy Aguiar told The Miami Herald last November. “All of us immigrants are looking for the same thing: freedom. We want to get out of Communist countries that are oppressing us. Those poor Venezuelans are suffering the same that we Cubans are suffering.”

Other Cuban migrants said they didn’t want to arrive alongside Central Americans because they could undermine their chances to enter the US, and especially in the wake of President Donald Trump’s draconian stance on the migrant caravan. “We don’t want to arrive with the caravan. It’s simply a coincidence; the time we have the opportunity to travel,” 29-year-old Eddy González also told The Miami Herald via phone call from Ciudad Juárez. “Cubans always want to come to the United States because it is a free and truly democratic country. That’s the United States: democracy, freedom. That’s what we Cubans are looking for.”

For now, Cubans and Central Americans alike now have to wait for US officials to process their asylum requests after the Trump administration decided to roll out its controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy — also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols — which forces refugee seekers to remain in Mexico for the duration of their proceedings.

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review,, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.