CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – Thousands of Cuban migrants hoping to be allowed to enter the United States are stranded in Ciudad Juarez, located across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.
“They have welcomed us pretty well here. They give us food with a little chili, but that’s not their fault,” Juan Carlos Flores, a Cuban migrant who has been in this border city in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua with his wife for more than a month, told EFE.
Flores said he chose this border crossing, where long lines have been the norm recently in the wake of President Donald Trump’s threat to close the border, after hearing that asylum seekers could cross into the United States quickly and without danger.
The couple decided to leave home because they did not like the Cuban government, telling EFE that although “there were pros and cons in the system,” they preferred to leave the island in the hope of finding a better job in the United States, the land many dream of reaching.
According to official figures, 70 percent of the more than 3,300 migrants currently in transit in this Mexican border city are Cubans.
“Juarez had become a city that was no longer important in terms of migratory flows into the United States. Seeing ourselves again at the center of migratory flows was something very surprising,” Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Colef) Population Studies Department researcher Jesus Peña told EFE.
Peña, an expert on migration, said the situation changed after the arrival of 100 Cuban migrants in the border city last October.
The first group of migrants was allowed to enter the United States less than 24 hours after setting foot in Juarez.
“Those people traveled from Brazil to Ciudad Juarez because the first (Central American) migrant caravan was in Tijuana. I think that was easier for them than to go to other border (crossings) because there are more connecting flights and bus routes to Ciudad Juarez,” Peña said.
After the arrival of the first group of Cubans in Juarez, word began to spread about the quick and easy access to the United States via Ciudad Juarez-El Paso among the migrants’ relatives and friends.
The Cuban migrant community also took advantage of Panama’s decision to remove visa requirements and joined the exodus from Central America.
Traveling on buses and even flying, the Cubans began arriving at the border and were counted among the more than 10,200 migrants in Juarez registered by the State Population Council (Coespo) at the end of October 2018.
“While in other places they are welcoming people of other nationalities, here we are receiving mostly Cubans,” Coespo coordinator Enrique Valenzuela said during a recent press conference.
Valenzuela said that due to the high numbers of migrants traveling north, 10 shelters have been set up in the border city.
In February, a temporary shelter was opened in the Bachilleres Gymnasium, where more than 500 migrants were housed after Casa del Migrante – a non-profit group that has traditionally provided shelter to migrants – reached maximum capacity.
Now, the gym that used to have hundreds of sleeping mats inside only has 90 migrants left, all Cubans, sleeping in five different rooms.
Adriel, who like Juan Carlos spends the night at the gym, said he decided to leave his home in Cuba’s Villa Clara province to live in the nation that promises the “American dream,” security and freedom.
“My reason was, basically, to seek democracy, freedom of expression. There was no freedom, they were on top of you constantly, making life practically impossible,” the Cuban migrant told EFE.
The Cuban migrant said that two of his relatives, like him, belong to the opposition in the Caribbean country.
Without providing too many details, he explained that this put him in constant danger.
“I feel it because I am Cuban, I have a family, a mother, brothers, and nobody wants to leave their homeland, but when you have to do it, you have to do it,” he said in tears.