Surge in Cuban immigration to U.S. continues into 2016
The number of Cubans who have entered the U.S. has spiked dramatically since President Obama announced a renewal of ties with the island nation in late 2014, a Pew Research Center analysis of government data has found. The U.S. has since opened an embassy in Havana, a move supported by a large majority of Americans, and public support is growing for ending the trade embargo with Cuba.
Cubans seeking to enter the U.S. may receive different treatment than other immigrants under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. Cubans hoping to live in the U.S. legally need only show up at a port of entry and pass an inspection, which includes a check of criminal and immigration history in the U.S. After a year in the country, they may apply for legal permanent residence.
During the first 10 months of fiscal year 2016, 46,635 Cubans have entered the U.S. via ports of entry – already surpassing full fiscal year 2015’s total of 43,159, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained through a public records request. Fiscal 2015 was a surge year and was up 78% over 2014, when 24,278 Cubans entered the U.S. And those 2014 numbers had already increased dramatically after the Cuban government lifted travel restrictions that year. These totals are significantly higher than in all of fiscal 2011, when 7,759 Cubans came into the U.S.
The surge in the number of Cubans entering the country began in the months immediately following the president’s announcement. From January to March 2015, 9,900 Cubans entered the U.S., more than double the 4,746 who arrived during the same time period in 2014. The surge continued into fiscal 2016 and peaked in the first quarter (October to December 2015), when 16,444 Cubans entered the U.S., an increase of 78% compared with the same quarter of fiscal 2015. The number of Cubans entering the U.S. has ebbed somewhat since.
Thousands of Cubans have migrated to the U.S. by land. Many fly to Ecuador because of the country’s liberal immigration policies, then travel north through Central America and Mexico. However, as some Central American countries have close their borders to the flow, this route has grown more difficult to travel, and a number of Cuban immigrants have been stranded on their way to the U.S.
The majority of Cubans who entered the United States by land arrived through the U.S. Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector in Texas, which borders Mexico. In fiscal 2015, two-thirds (28,371) of all Cubans came through this sector, an 82% increase from the previous fiscal year. So far in fiscal 2016, the Laredo Sector has continued to receive the majority (64%) of Cuban migrants entering the U.S. through a port of entry. Fiscal 2016 also has seen a spike in land arrivals in El Paso from Cuba, where 4,810 have entered in the first 10 months. In full fiscal 2015, only 698 Cubans entered through El Paso.
Since 2014, a large percentage increase has occurred in the Miami sector, which operates in several states but primarily in Florida. The number of Cubans who entered in the Miami sector during fiscal 2015 more than doubled from the previous year, from 4,709 to 9,999. In the first 10 months of fiscal 2016, 8,960 Cubans have entered through the Miami sector.
Not all Cubans who attempt to enter the U.S. make it. Under current U.S. policy, Cubans caught trying to reach the U.S. by sea are returned to Cuba or, if they cite fear of prosecution, to a third country. In fiscal 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard apprehended 3,505 Cubans at sea, the highest number of any country. The total exceeds the 2,111 Cubans apprehended in fiscal 2014.
There are 2 million Hispanics of Cuban ancestry living in the U.S. today, the third largest Hispanic origin group behind Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. But population growth for this group is now being driven by Cuban Americans born in the U.S. rather than the arrival of new immigrants. Nevertheless, the majority (57%) of the group is foreign born; this share has declined from 68% in 2000, despite the recent influx in Cubans entering the U.S.
Note: This post was originally published on Oct. 7, 2015, and has been updated.
Jens Manuel Krogstad is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.