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Cuellar: 40,000 Cuban migrants may cross U.S.-Mexico border during next few months

About 7,600 migrants have reached Costa Rica and approximately 2,000 to 3,000 have reached Panama, according to Cuellar. With about 30,000 expected to head north from Ecuador, Cuellar said, the total number of Cuban migrants headed for the United States could hit 40,000. (CBS 4 News)

Roughly 40,000 Cuban migrants throughout Central America may attempt to cross the United States-Mexico border during the next few months, said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

About 7,600 migrants have reached Costa Rica and approximately 2,000 to 3,000 have reached Panama, according to Cuellar. With about 30,000 expected to head north from Ecuador, Cuellar said, the total number of Cuban migrants headed for the United States could hit 40,000.

First, though, they'll have to cross Mexico.

Cuellar said the improving relationship between the U.S. and Cuba prompted the sudden surge of Cuban migrants.

"It puts fear in them that they're going to get rid of this 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act that allows them to come into the United States and step on land and then they stay here," Cuellar said.

Unlike migrants from Central America -- mainly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador -- who typically sneak across the Rio Grande and surrender to Border Patrol agents, Cuban migrants usually present themselves at border crossings.

Federal law allows them to quickly enter the United States and become citizens.

Asked about the influx of Cuban migrants, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a statement.

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is prepared to process the expected increase in Cubans applying for admission at South Texas ports of entry," according to the statement. "CBP officers will process Cuban nationals in accordance with established procedures as expeditiously as possible while maintaining requirements and standards for individuals in our care. CBP continues to work with our federal, state and local partners to minimize the impact to everyday trade and travel."

Cuellar said many Cubans have already sought asylum at border crossings in Laredo.

"So some of them might want to go to another area where it's been quiet on the publicity," Cuellar said.

The federal government should adjust immigration law to treat all migrants fairly, Cuellar said, adding that current law makes the United States a magnet for Cubans -- and causes problems for other nations where they stop along the way.

McAllen businessman Lazaro Fernandez Jr. immigrated from Cuba to the United States as a child.

"As an American, we need to make a change because so many people are coming into the States. I think it's a little bit out of control," Fernandez said.

Fernandez said many Cuban migrants come to the United States for the same reasons that prompted his family to flee during the 1960s.

"My people are still rationing food, they're still making $20-$30 a month," Fernandez said.

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