Cubans Reach United States Via Mexico In the past year, more Cubans have been avoiding stepped-up Coast Guard patrols in the Florida Straits and reaching the United States illegally through Mexico. U.S. policy allows most Cubans who reach American soil to stay, unlike illegal immigrants from many other nations.
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Cubans Reach United States Via Mexico

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Cubans Reach United States Via Mexico

Cubans Reach United States Via Mexico

Cubans Reach United States Via Mexico

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In the past year, more Cubans have been avoiding stepped-up Coast Guard patrols in the Florida Straits and reaching the United States illegally through Mexico. U.S. policy allows most Cubans who reach American soil to stay, unlike illegal immigrants from many other nations.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports that a majority of Cubans now reach U.S. soil by going through Mexico.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: The well-known image of people fleeing Cuba is the makeshift raft bobbing off Florida's coast - its occupants hanging on desperately amid ruckus wave. Damien Fernandez of Florida International University says the new route is a lot less risky.

DAMIEN FERNANDEZ: You don't have to confront the U.S. Coast Guard. You don't have to swim to shore. You don't have to defy sharks. It's just a matter of getting on a plane, getting to Mexico and crossing the border.

LUDDEN: Fernandez says Cubans arranged letters of invitation to visit aid groups or churches or family members in Mexico. That gets them permission to leave Cuba. Then, unlike Mexicans or Central Americans, Cubans don't have to sneak across the southwest border. Under the U.S. policy known as wet-foot, dry-foot, Cubans intercepted at sea are generally turned back, but those who reached U.S. soil are usually allowed to stay.

FERNANDEZ: In some cases, Cubans in Mexico just walk to the U.S. immigration authorities and say I'm Cuban and I want to stay in the United States.

LUDDEN: Commander Bob Watts heads drug and migrant interdiction for the U.S. Coast Guard. He has traveled to Mexico City several times now for talks on how to combat this growing trafficking network.

BOB WATTS: These are not migrants on masks, these are migrants who are being smuggled by criminals. And when you bring in a criminal network of any kind, there's certain things go on with that. You know, there's bribery, there's corruption, there's potential murder, you never know.

LUDDEN: In fact, some gangland style killings around Cancun, Mexico have been linked to the trafficking of Cubans. Mexico's attorney general recently pointed a finger at Cuban Americans for financing the smuggling reportedly to the tune of $10,000 a head. It's something Miami activist Ramon Saul Sanchez, who runs the Democracy Movement, doesn't deny.

RAMON SAUL SANCHEZ: It is something that we disagree with and something that we as activists discourage. But at the end of the day, it has to do with the love that the human being has for their relatives, and that is very, very hard to stop.

LUDDEN: Activist Ramon Saul Sanchez believes Mexico maybe under political pressure to crack down on these new smuggling routes. He says officials recently stepped up their detention of Cubans and 3 to 400 are now being held in Mexico.

SAUL SANCHEZ: Supposedly, they shouldn't hold people more than 90 days but there are people there being held for six months, eight months up to a year.

LUDDEN: Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

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