By MARC LACEY | New York Times
Cubans are migrating to the United States in the greatest numbers in over a decade, and for most of them the new way to get north is first to head west — to Mexico — in a convoluted route that avoids the United States Coast Guard.
American officials say the migration, which has grown into a multimillion-dollar-a-year smuggling enterprise, has risen sharply because many Cubans have lost hope that Raúl Castro, who took over as president from his brother Fidel in 2006, will make changes that will improve their lives. Cuban authorities contend that the migration is more economic than political and is fueled by Washington’s policy of rewarding Cubans who enter the United States illegally.
In fact, unlike Mexicans, Central Americans and others heading to the southwestern border of the United States, the Cubans do not have to sneak across. They just walk right up to United States authorities at the border, benefiting from lax Mexican enforcement and relying on Washington’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which gives them the ability to become permanent residents if they can reach United States soil.
That is what José Luis Savater, 45, a refrigerator repairman from Havana, did in early October to reach southern Florida, which remains the goal for most migrating Cubans.
It took Mr. Savater almost four days to reach Isla Mujeres, Mexico, a coastal island, in a rickety boat made of wood, fiberglass and aluminum and powered by a jury-rigged motor used for irrigating fields. The 15 men and one woman with him took turns bailing.
“It’s extremely dangerous,” Mr. Savater said by telephone as he prepared to leave Cancún for the Mexican border. “I saw myself dead. I suffered a lot.”
But his next step was far easier: a flight to Matamoros, a border town just across from Brownsville, Tex., with the help of money wired from relatives in Florida. Some American officials are calling this new approach — Cubans’ strolling up to border stations and seeking political asylum — dusty foot.