Mexico to deport Cubans illegally headed to US

Route has seen increasing use and violence

By Alexandra Olson
Associated Press / October 21, 2008
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MEXICO CITY - Mexico agreed yesterday to deport Cubans who sneak illegally through Mexican territory to reach the United States, a step toward cutting off an increasingly violent and heavily used human trafficking route.

Signed by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, the agreement also criticized US policy that generally allows Cubans who reach US territory to stay, while turning back most caught at sea.

It takes effect in one month.

Cuban migrants in recent years have increasingly headed for Mexico - often to the coast near Cancun - then overland to Texas because it has become so hard to dodge the US Coast Guard and reach Florida to qualify for US residency.

The Department of Homeland Security said 11,126 Cubans used the Mexico route last year, compared to just 1,055 who landed in the Miami area.

Before yesterday, Mexico rarely sent back Cubans caught entering the country illegally. Many were held for a time, then were given 30-day transit visas to continue on to Texas, where Cubans present only identity documents and undergo medical and background checks before being welcomed to America.

Under the new agreement, Mexico agreed to deport Cubans found illegally in Mexico, both those who arrive from their native island by boat and those who come through Central America.

Both countries agreed to protect the human rights of migrants, but it wasn't clear if Mexico could give asylum to Cubans who claim political persecution back home. The agreement also allows Cuba to reserve the right to deny entry to anyone it sees as a security risk.

Perez Roque said the agreement would lead to "the immense majority of Cubans being repatriated." Approximately 2,000 Cubans are currently being held in Mexican immigration detention centers.

"I am sure that this memorandum of understanding is going to significantly reduce attempts to use Mexico as a route to getting to the United States," he said.

But Andy Gomez, a senior fellow and assistant provost at University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, said stopping the wave of migrants coming through Mexico will be difficult because smugglers often pay off Mexican authorities.

Even if the smuggling route through Mexico is cut off, Gomez predicted that Cuban migrants will land in the Florida Panhandle, northeastern Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

"Currently, the resources of the US Coast Guard are quite limited and the square miles they cover are quite limited," said Gomez.

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