Monday, April 15, 2024

Cubans Flee Home Country in Search of Work in a New City and New Country

Máximo A. has seven relatives who recently came from Cuba and needed help finding work in a new city and country. Máximo and other relatives in Miami have helped Cubans financially, from purchasing plane tickets to Nicaragua to paying coyotes to take families through different portions of the trip, including Guatemala.

“When the employees at the Guatemalan agency heard my Cuban accent, they knew I was there to send money to a coyote, like so many others,” Máximo said. “Why else would a Cuban be sending money to Guatemala?”

Since Nicaragua removed visa requirements for Cubans a year ago, over 220,000 Cubans, including Máximo’s relatives, are flying to Central America and making their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. Many are fleeing shortages in food, medicine, and power and fear speaking out against the government.

With rumors spreading that the Biden administration plans to slash the number of migrants who qualify for asylum, including Cubans, migration is more significant than on any other island. Almost 29,000 Cubans were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in October.

“The magnitude of the flow is unprecedented and unheard of,” said Jorge Duany, director of Florida International University’s Cuba Research Institute.

Many migrants struggle to find work and housing in Miami, a city already full of new arrivals from Cuba and other countries. Navigating the complex world of asylum has been made harder by authorities placing hurdles on what used to be a relatively smooth path to becoming U.S. residents, like affording a place to live.Local officials are worried about rising rent prices in the area, and recent migrants have been staying with relatives until they can find work and efficient rent.

“I’ve heard everything, from 20-something people living in a house to relatives having them for an unlimited amount of time at home,” said Oasis Peña, who works with different organizations that aid newly arrived families on available resources. Peña said recent arrivals are relying on underground networks to find affordable places to rent and jobs that don’t need formal work authorization, like construction, agriculture, or cleaning.

Cubans have had a relatively easy path to U.S. residency through the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), the 1962 law that allowed Cubans admittance and gave immigration parole to apply for residency after a year and a day in the U.S. Now, however, most Cubans are not being paroled. The majority face challenging asylum cases, with a wide range of documents they must navigate to be a resident.

“It’s basically chaos,” said Angel Leal, an immigration attorney in Miami.

Over 60 years of a Soviet-style economy, tightened U.S. sanctions that began under former president Trump, and the effects of the pandemic have left Cubans with shortages in food, medicine, and power. Cracking down on antigovernmental protests in July 2021 has left many on the island without hope for change. In the longer term, the historic wave of migrants will significantly impact local and national politics.