In one of his last presidential orders, President Obama announced suddenly last Thursday that the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy on Cuban immigration has ended.
There are thousands of Cubans who have fled their homeland over the past few months that are still in transit to the U.S. More information about the policy in the Washington Post. Many of the Cubans are traveling via Ecuador to avoid the treacherous sea journey to the Florida Keys. I met a Cuban woman in Florida last year who told me what it was like to take the overland route in 2015.
(Map credit Fusion.net)
“Alma” said she, her husband, and teenage son left Cuba because of the hard economic situation and hope for a better future for their son. They had to leave under the guise of a vacation to Ecuador, which doesn’t require an entry visa. They didn’t get to have goodbye celebrations or even give away all of their belongings, because they didn’t want to raises suspicion. They just simply said, “Hasta pronto” (see you soon) and boarded the flight.
Alma knew the journey would be difficult and expensive. Their relatives in Miami had been sending money and they saved up. She had no idea it would unfold harder than she imagined. Beginning in Ecuador, they took buses to travel through Colombia to Panama. People treated them poorly when they realized they were Cubans. It got worse when they arrived in Costa Rica, where upwards of 9,000 Cubans have been stranded at a time trying to get across the Nicaraguan border. They made it into Nicaragua, yet her son and husband were imprisoned for three days for being Cubans. Nicaragua and Cuba have decades of being close political allies, so Alma’s family was seen as being traitors to Cuba.
Alma shared the remainder of the journey continued to be incredibly difficult. Alma said she cried every day, even after the tears had dried up. Her son grew into a man on this voyage, her husband became a great source of strength.
Along the journey, they paid many “coyotes” or smugglers to help them, and spent over $8,000. Sometimes they were stranded for a week waiting for more money to arrive so they could continue. In Mexico, Alma and her family were among many Cubans traveling together on a bus which cam under gunfire, simple because they were Cubans. Ironically, Cubans come from a country were almost no one has a firearm unless they are in the military.
After more than 2 months Alma and her family reached the Juarez/El Paso border. They approached the guard stand, showed their Cuban passports, and were welcomed into the United States.
Alma shared that it has been harder living in Miami than she thought. People look down on her for being Cuban, it is difficult to find work and everything is expensive. She honestly though she’d be living in a home similar to the ones on “Modern Family” (which featured Sofia Vergara). She is happy she made it though, and optimistic for her son’s future.
It is sad to think of the thousands of Cubans who find themselves stranded in Central or South America, suddenly without a home, and without the welcoming destination and hopeful future they envisioned.