New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

Cubans respond with zeal to new migration policy

- By Andrea Rodríguez

HAVANA — 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 would-be 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 20212022 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 20212022. 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.

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