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Deal paves way for thousands of Cuban immigrants heading to U.S.

Deal paves way for thousands of Cuban immigrants heading to U.S.
By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
Updated 2343 GMT (0743 HKT) January 5, 2016 | Video Source: CNN

Story highlights
Five Central American countries and Mexico ink a deal to help Cuban
immigrants
Thousands of them have been stranded in Costa Rica for weeks
Soon, they could be on the way to the United States

(CNN)It’s a rare deal at a time when daily sparring over immigration is
a worldwide reality.

Five Central American countries and Mexico inked an agreement last week
that will help thousands of stranded Cuban immigrants make their way to
the United States.

The group of Cubans, numbering approximately 8,000 at the latest
estimate, had been stuck in Costa Rica for weeks after Nicaragua closed
its borders to them.

Now a group of Central American countries say the group will be flown to
El Salvador, then transported on buses to Mexico. Then they’ll have a
chance to cross into the United States.

Officials have said they’ll start transporting the group of Cubans on
flights this month.

Here’s a look at some key questions in light of the deal:

Why are so many Cubans trying to get to the United States?
The idea of 8,000 new immigrants showing up at America’s doorstep sounds
like a large number. But experts say it’s in keeping with a trend
they’ve observed.

The number of Cubans coming to the United States has spiked
dramatically, particularly after U.S. Barack Obama’s
announcement that relations between the United States and the island
nation were on the mend.

More than 43,000 Cubans entered the United States at ports of entry in
the 2015 fiscal year, according to a recent Pew Research Center report,
which cited U.S. and Border Protection data. That represents a
78% increase over the previous year, according to Pew.

Several factors are fueling the trend, said Marc Rosenblum, deputy
director of the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy
Institute.

The Obama administration’s 2009 decision to ease restrictions on
Americans traveling to Cuba and sending money to families there, Cuba’s
move in 2013 to relax exit controls on Cubans seeking to leave the
island and — most importantly — the U.S. decision to normalize
relations last year.

Some fear that the immigration policies that have welcomed Cubans into
the United States could change now that relations between the countries
are warming, Rosenblum said.

“There is this concern that Cuba special privileges will be eliminated,
so Cubans are trying to get out while the getting’s good,” he said.

Don’t most Cubans immigrate to the United States in boats?
Not anymore. While the U.S. Coast Guard said last year that it was
seeing an increase in the number of Cubans trying to reach the United
States in rafts, even more are taking a different route.

“Over the last several years, we’ve seen pretty sharp increases in the
number of Cubans, especially traveling by land,” Rosenblum said.

Until recently, many flew into Ecuador, which didn’t require a visa for
Cubans until several months ago. From there, they trekked through Latin
America until they reached the United States.

Will U.S. officials roll out the red carpet for this group when they
arrive, or send them packing?
A spokesman from the Department of Homeland Security didn’t respond to a
request for comment about this particular group of stranded immigrants
that’s heading for the United States. But if recent history is any
indication, the Cuban immigrants will be welcomed once they set foot on
American soil.

The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 grants special privileges to Cubans,
clearing some of the hurdles people from other countries face when
immigrating.

“Even if they arrive illegally, they are admitted into the United
States, and after a year and a day they are granted a green card,”
Rosenblum said. “They are the only country in the world that enjoys that
privilege.”

While immigrants from other countries have to go through screening
processes as they make their asylum cases, Cubans, Rosenblum said, “are
assumed to be refugees … fleeing political .”

With immigration policies in the spotlight and changing U.S.-Cuba
relations, could the policy change?
At this point, that’s anybody’s guess.

The latest U.S. government statement on the matter, released in December
after a round of migration talks, said “the administration has no plans
to alter current migration policy regarding Cuba.”

When the Cuban Adjustment Act was passed, the U.S. government wanted to
support Cuban dissidents and saw the Cuban government as a “uniquely
authoritative, repressive regime,” Rosenblum said.

These days, he said, that’s “an increasingly difficult position to take.”

“When you look around the world and you look around the hemisphere,
there’s a lot of other countries where people are fleeing at least as
difficult circumstances, but aren’t subject to similar privileges,”
Rosenblum said.

With political campaigning at fever pitch as the 2016 presidential
election looms, it’s unlikely there will be any overhaul of U.S.
immigration laws. But the policies for the way Cuban immigrants are
treated could shift in some ways, Rosenblum said, with increased
screening or other limitations.

The Cubans on the way to the United States say they’re focused on the
present. Rafael Angel Suarez told CNN affiliate Teletica that he was
full of emotion after learning of the deal the Central American
countries struck.

“We were crying with happiness,” he said.

CNN’s Rafael Romo, Patrick Oppmann and Elwyn Lopez contributed to this
report.

Source: Deal paves way for thousands of Cuban immigrants heading to U.S.
– CNN.com – edition.cnn.com/2016/01/05/us/cuban-immigrants/

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