MIAMI — The number of undocumented Cubans intercepted in Mexico on their way to the U.S. border has more than doubled in the eight months since Havana eased its migration controls, according to Mexican government figures.
The Interior Ministry numbers were the latest indication of the greatly increased flow of Cubans, undocumented and legal, through Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean the past year.
Most, if not all of the Cubans, are heading to the United States, where they are protected from deportation to Cuba, can receive benefits as refugees and qualify for permanent U.S. residency after one year and one day.
Interdictions in Mexico of undocumented Cubans totaled 2,300 from January to August of this year, compared to 994 in the same period in 2012, according to the Interior Ministry.
The number does not include those who make it to the border undetected by Mexican authorities. That figure has been estimated at more than 13,000 for the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30.
Legal air arrivals to Mexico by Cubans with tourist or migrant visas rose from 30,750 in the first eight months of 2012 to 33,017 in the same period this year, according to the Mexican government.
Those figures represent an increase of 2,237 arrivals, or 7.2 percent, although Mexican officials noted that the same person could have made several entries.
Santiago Alpizar, a Miami immigration lawyer, said many more Cubans have left the island in recent months, because of Cuba’s moribund economy and President Raul Castro’s decision to ease migration controls on Jan. 14.
The January changes eliminated the need for Cuban government exit permits, allowed more minors to travel abroad and extended from 11 to 24 months the time that Cubans can stay outside their country without losing their residency and benefits such as free health care.
Thousands of Cubans arrive each year via the Mexico-U.S. border because it is the easiest way of obtaining entry under Washington’s “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy. Those who set foot on U.S. territory get to stay, but most of those interdicted at sea are returned.
The migration reforms were one of the most popular measures adopted by Castro since he succeeded ailing brother Fidel in 2008.