Enterprise-Record (Chico)

Cubans respond with zeal to new US migration policy

- By Andrea Rodríguez

In barely a week, 25-year-old engineer Marcos Marzo went from riding his small electric motorcycle past the low buildings of Havana's Vedado district to traveling the mega-highways of Florida, amazed by the towering high-rises and giant supermarke­ts.

A close relative told Marzo on Jan. 21 that he had applied online to sponsor the young engineer's trip to Florida as required by the new parole program for Cuban migrants set up by the Biden administra­tion. The next day the sponsorshi­p had been confirmed and the day after that it was approved.

With his printed authorizat­ion in hand and a small blue suitcase, Marzo climbed aboard a plane to Hialeah last Friday, shaken by the speed of it all.

“It has been a very hard, that in seven days your life changes so drasticall­y, it fills you with hope, but at the same time it fills you with dread,” Marzo told The Associated Press before leaving for what he knew would be a personal watershed.

Overwhelme­d by thousands of Cubans crowding its southern border after making the dangerous trip through Central America and an increase in makeshift boats crossing the Florida Straits, the United States in early January approved a policy change that makes migrants request a permit, or parole, online before arriving with the sponsorshi­p of a relative or acquaintan­ce in the U.S.

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. The program's backers hope it will help wouldbe

migrants avoid the risks of the route through Mexico — plagued by trafficker­s — and bring order to the migrant flow.

“This option has come like a light,” said Marzo, who had been living with his parents in Havana. Now in the U.S., his dream is to do a master's degree at the Massachuse­tts Institute of Technology and work as an engineer, which he says is his passion.

According to figures from U.S. border authoritie­s, in the 2021-2022 fiscal year — which began in October last year and ended in September — officials had a record 224,000 encounters with Cuban migrants on the Mexico border. In October 2022 there were 29,878 Cuban migrants stopped, in November 35,881 and in December 44,064.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard intercepte­d 6,182 Cubans trying to arrive by sea in fiscal year 2021-2022. Add to that 4,795 in the past three months.

All the figures are records and come amid a serious economic crises on the island caused by the coronaviru­s pandemic, inefficien­cies in economic reforms and a radical tightening of U.S. sanctions, which seek to pressure its government to change its model. Blackouts, shortages, inflation, long fuel lines and dollarizat­ion marked parts of 2021 and 2022 in Cuba, while the country saw its first street demonstrat­ions in decades with thousands of people demanding an end of the power outages.

Until Jan. 5, Cubans who arrived at the northern border of Mexico obtained permits that granted them entry into U.S. territory, assuming there was a credible fear that prevented them from returning to the island. Later they usually ended up with refugee benefits and a year after that the protection of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Then the Biden administra­tion unveiled its new policy: 30,000 migrants will be accepted each month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. The migrants can stay for up to two years but must have a sponsor already in place in the United States. Those who risk reaching the borders without permission would be deported and not be able to enter U.S. terri- tory for five years.

There are still questions about the program, including how many people from each of the four countries will be accepted.

And the program is not without controvers­y in Cuba amid the migrant boom in recent months, since many people had already began their journeys toward the United States on the previous route. Some had even sold houses and cars to make the journey through Central America, which begins with a flight to Nicaragua and continues up through Mexico to the U.S. border. It is 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 that journey is a total risk,” she said.

Marzo acknowledg­ed that he had considered migrating by the route of “the volcanoes,” as Cubans popularly call the Central American journey, but his parents talked him out of it. The number of people who have died on the journey is unknown.

Cardozo, speaking while waiting in front of a government office to obtain birth certificat­es and a criminal record certificat­e, said a relative in the U.S. had initiated the process as sponsor her, her 16-year-old son and her husband, but in three weeks they had gotten no response.

Many Cubans wanting to migrate cannot apply for the program because they lack a sponsor in the U.S.

On social media, memes have spread rapidly about Cubans rediscover­ing distant cousins or previously unknown uncles in the United States, and the U.S. Embassy warned Cubans to careful to avoid fraud and *even human traffickin­g.

 ?? RAMON ESPINOSA — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Marcos Marzo hugs two of his friends who came to say goodbye upon receiving the news that he had obtained a permit to travel to the United States, in Havana, Cuba, on Jan 25th.
RAMON ESPINOSA — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Marcos Marzo hugs two of his friends who came to say goodbye upon receiving the news that he had obtained a permit to travel to the United States, in Havana, Cuba, on Jan 25th.

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