A group of Cuban migrants previously stranded in Central America have begun arriving in Miami, the first of an expected influx of thousands of Cubans to the United States.
The circuitous route taken by the migrants — via air from Cuba to South America and then over land to the U.S. border — is the result of an agreement reached between five Central American countries and Mexico this month.
The number of Cuban migrants to the United States spiked after the announcement that U.S.-Cuban relations were on the mend. U.S. immigration laws have considered Cubans refugees needing asylum, but it is uncertain how better relations with Cuba will affect that.
About 8,000 Cubans making the journey through Central America met an obstacle in Costa Rica when Nicaragua closed its border to them. The bottleneck posed a crisis, which was resolved with an agreement that allowed them to fly from Costa Rica to El Salvador, and then via bus to Mexico, then on to the United States.
An initial group of 180 Cubans left on a flight to El Salvador last Tuesday and entered the United States via Texas late last week. Over the weekend, they began arriving in Miami, where there is a large Cuban-American population.
For one of the migrants, Joel Blanco, arrival in Miami meant a heartwarming homecoming.
“Imagine,” Blanco told CNN en Español. “I wished to be at my family’s side. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them.”
It was an odyssey for him, but he made it.
“At last he is with me after so long,” Blanco’s sister, Jacky Urroz, said. “Months of anxiety, sleepless nights and worries.”
Blanco says his journey started on October 28, when he took a flight from Cuba to Ecuador to begin a journey through eight countries to reach the United States.
He tried to bypass the roadblock that Nicaragua put up, but a smuggler abandoned him and he was deported to Costa Rica. Blanco came this time thanks to the immigration deal.
This first group entered the United States through Laredo, Texas.
The border city is preparing for a large number of Cubans, but this first group of fewer than 200 posed few problems.
“I was downtown to check out the flow of the Cubans who were coming through, and it was not as chaotic as I thought it was going to be,” said Becky Solloa, the executive director of Catholic Social Services in Laredo.
The majority of migrants had the means to buy plane tickets or have family meet them and escort them to their final destination, she said.
Catholic Social Services continues to prepare to help the most desperate as larger waves of Cubans are expected this week, Solloa said.