Texas’ Other Border Surge
The immigration issue in 2015 was largely dominated by a never-ending surge of unaccompanied minors and families from Central America, followed by concerns about how to handle thousands of Syrian refugees whom our government has admitted it cannot adequately vet. Less talked about, however, was another alarming increase in individuals entering the U.S., this time, from Cuba.
The number of Cubans coming to the U.S. unlawfully has nearly doubled this last year. In fiscal year 2015, which ended September 30, 43,159 Cubans entered the U.S., representing a 78% increase over fiscal year 2014 entries. (See Pew Research Center Study, Dec. 10, 2015) In that year, only 24,278 Cubans entered the country. (Id.) In fact, the latest numbers show the highest levels of mass Cuban unlawful migration to the U.S. in more than 20 years. (NPR, Dec. 29, 2015)
Even more surprising to many, a majority entered not through Florida, but Texas. Indeed, in fiscal year 2015, two-thirds (28,371) of all Cubans came through the Laredo Sector of the U.S. border, an 82% increase from the previous fiscal year. (See Pew Research Center Study, Dec. 10, 2015). When one factors in Texas’s illegal alien population, refugee, and unaccompanied minor admissions, Texas quickly becomes one of the states most impacted by our nation’s unchecked immigration system. In addition to Texas’ estimated 1.7-1.8 million illegal aliens, it took in more refugees than any other state (7,214) in fiscal year 2014. (See Office of Refugee Resettlement Refugee Data, Feb. 11, 2015)
Texas has also resettled a large share of individuals following the surge of unaccompanied minors and family units across the Southwest border, and in particular, the Rio Grande Valley Sector. In fiscal year 2014, the Office of Refugee Resettlement sent more unaccompanied minors to sponsors in Texas than in any other state (7,409). (See Office of Refugee Resettlement Unaccompanied Alien Children Data, updated Dec. 23, 2015) Texas also had the second highest number of unaccompanied minors in fiscal year 2015 at 3,209, with California taking in slightly more at 3,756. (Id.)
Unlike Central American unaccompanied minors or Syrian refugees, however, U.S. immigration law and policy has blatantly favored Cubans for the last half century. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cuban nationals who set foot on American soil, regardless of how they got here, are permitted to remain and adjust their status to permanent legal immigrants after one year. In addition, under a policy established by former President Bill Clinton, Cuba is the only country in the world guaranteed a minimum number of annual immigrant visas (20,000) to the United States.
The surge of Cubans demonstrates the fear that many in that country have of the U.S. ending its preferential policy since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced they were normalizing diplomatic relations in late 2014. In fact, Raul Castro recently called for an end to the U.S.’s immigration policy toward Cubans. In a statement he called the U.S.’s immigration law toward Cuba discriminatory to other countries in the region and argued that it encouraged illegal immigration. (See Castro Press Release, Dec. 15, 2015; see also Washington Post, Dec. 18, 2015) Even the New York Times editorial board has called for an end to the U.S.’s preferential treatment of Cubans. Referring to the policy as a relic of the Cold War, the Times editorial board commented, “This system has been a boon for human smugglers in Latin America and created burdens for countries from Ecuador to Mexico through which they move.” (The New York Times, Dec. 21, 2015) “It has also been used by Cuba as a pretext to impose strict controls on its people and prevented the American government from conducting the type of thorough security vetting that all other immigrants receive,” it continued. (Id.)
FAIR has been calling for end to such policies for decades. In regards to President Obama’s announcement about normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, FAIR president Dan Stein said, “The special immigration policies we have had for Cubans have never made sense, nor have they achieved any beneficial effect for Cuba or the U.S. For decades, these policies have been driven by domestic political considerations. Now they are completely without justification…Normalization means normalization.” (See FAIR Press Release, July 6, 2015)