The U.S. is planning to begin deporting Cuban migrants who crossed undocumented into the U.S. from Mexico on flights back to Cuba, two U.S. officials say.
The officials said the flights will begin “in the coming weeks,” as ICE locates Cubans with final orders of deportation to fill planes.
Reuters first reported on Friday that the Cuban government has agreed to accept deportation flights.
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The deportation flights would be the first of their kind since the Trump administration as Cuba has recently refused to accept its own citizens back from the U.S.
Cuba is now agreeing to accept deportees under a deal reached between the two countries that will restart visa processing for Cubans seeking to enter the U.S. legally.
The number of Cubans crossing into the U.S. by land has drastically increased over the past year, in large part because Cubans are not sent back into Mexico due to Title 42 Covid-19 restrictions like migrants of other nationalities, who are still being pushed back across the border.
More than 248,000 Cubans were apprehended crossing the U.S. southwest border over the past year, up from 43,677 the year prior, according to Customs and Border Protection figures. Those Cubans who arrived by land were allowed to apply for asylum. Those who have had their applications denied may now be deported by plane.
The last deportation flight from the U.S. to Cuba left on Dec. 29, 2020, according to Tom Cartwright, an immigration activist with the advocacy group Witness at the Border who tracks each U.S. deportation flight by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the plans for Cuban deportations.
The agreement between the U.S. and Cuba comes after talks between both governments in Havana this week. The U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba known as “wet foot, dry foot” that allowed migrants who arrived in the U.S. since 1995 to stay while other nationalities were deported came to an end in 2017. The Trump administration ramped up deportations of Cubans, but so far the Biden administration has not coordinated large-scale Cuban deportations through ICE. Some Cubans interdicted at sea have been returned, however.