Local News

Cubans rushing to US as relations thaw

Posted February 18, 2016 7:05 p.m. EST

— Since the U.S. began re-establishing relations with Cuba, the number of Cubans entering the U.S. has spiked.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection data show that 43,159 Cubans came to the U.S. between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015, a 78 percent increase over the preceding 12 months.

Some observers said fear over thawing relations might be driving the rush, saying the U.S. could drop the so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy that guarantees any Cuban who can get one foot on U.S. land and pass a background check can stay in the country legally.

The Obama administration announced Thursday that it has no plans to change the 50-year-old policy, which has allowed about 200 Cubans to settle in North Carolina in the last year.

Jorge Arias, for example, arrived in Raleigh 12 days ago. He left Cuba in June on a boat with about 25 others, and they floated in the sea for nine days before landing in Belize.

Authorities in Belize put Arias and the others in jail for illegally entering the country. Six months later, the group was released, and they made their way through Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S.

Dawn Nicholas Roberts, who works with the U.S. Committee of Refugees and Immigrants, said Cubans are resettling across North Carolina.

"We're looking at Randolph County, Alamance County, Cumberland County Wake County, Wayne County," Roberts said.

The Cubans have to wait between three and six months before they can apply for a job in North Carolina, she said. After a year in the country, they can apply for legal permanent residence.

Arias, who has enrolled in a class to improve his English, said that he hopes the renewed relationship between the U.S. and Cuba will be good for both countries.