The biggest wave of Cuban migrants arriving in US since 1980 is driving policy changes


About 115,000 Cubans — more than one percent of the island’s population — have left their homeland fleeing poverty and repression and reached the U.S. in the past seven months, a mass migration wave on a scale not seen in four decades that has prompted recent changes in U.S. policy and provided the Cuban government an escape valve following unprecedented protests last year.

Between October of last year and April, immigration authorities detained 114,916 Cubans, the vast majority at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the most recent data published by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Cubans accounted for the second-largest group of migrants stopped at the border during March and April, topped only by Mexicans.

The Cuban exodus has been dubbed “a silent Mariel,” a reference to the Mariel boatlift, when 125,000 Cubans came to Florida between April and October 1980. While Customs provides the number of detentions rather than the exact head count of Cubans legally admitted — some people might be counted more than once if they cross the border repeatedly — the latest figures show that this “is undoubtedly the largest exodus from Cuba in the last four decades,” said Jorge Duany, an emigration expert who leads the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

Duany said several factors have created “a perfect storm” driving mass migration from Cuba: “the economic recession on the island, the intensification of the economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration and maintained until now by the Biden administration, the coronavirus pandemic and the social uprising on July 11” last year.


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