“We’re here now — the hardest part is behind us,” said Paumier, 58, who made the trip with his son, daughter-in-law, two young grandchildren and three other relatives. “We have faith the United States will understand our situation.”
The Obama administration ended what was known as the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, which gave Cubans a unique status — any Cuban who stepped foot on U.S. soil could stay in the country and obtain a fast track to permanent residency.
That is no longer in place, though under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cubans who are already on U.S. soil — whether they came in undetected or overstayed a tourist visa — can adjust their legal status if they can keep a low profile for one year and one day.
But in recent years, a growing number of new arrivals, who risk being returned to Cuba if they are caught, have opted to travel to ports of entry and apply for asylum.
During the 2016 fiscal year, judges made decisions in 59 asylum cases filed by Cubans. In 2017, that number jumped to 245, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, database. Last year, 455 Cuban asylum cases were decided — with about six in 10 resulting in denials.
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Late last year, as the Paumier family made plans to sell their home in Havana, asylum-seekers arriving in Juárez faced a one- to two-week wait to enter the U.S. But by the time the family arrived three weeks ago, estimated wait times had jumped to two months. Almost 500 people were registered at the sports complex shelter.
Although Central American citizens make up the majority of people seeking asylum along the southern U.S. border, Mexican officials who oversee migrant shelters in Juárez said they’ve seen more Cubans arriving since late last year.
Many Cubans in Juárez said they chose to travel there after hearing it’s the safest border city from which to request asylum. In recent weeks, news reports have detailed the illegal detention, kidnapping and extortion of migrants arriving in Reynosa, a city hundreds of miles east of Juárez.