Like tens of thousands of Cubans, Gerardo Luis wants to get to the United States and he’s suddenly worried that time may be running out.
Across an island where migrating north is an obsession, the widespread jubilation over last week’s historic U.S-Cuba detente is soured by fear that warming relations will eventually end Cubans’ unique fast track to legal American residency.
For nearly a half-century, the Cuban Adjustment Act has given Cubans who arrive in the U.S. a virtually guaranteed path to legal residency and eventual citizenship. The knowledge that they will be shielded from deportation has drawn hundreds of thousands of Cubans on perilous raft trips to Florida and land journeys through Central America and Mexico.
U.S. officials say there are no immediate plans to change immigration laws or policy. But with the U.S. and Cuba negotiating a return to full diplomatic relations, many Cubans are wondering how long their extraordinary privilege can survive under restored diplomacy, and are thinking about speeding up plans to get to the U.S.
“I don’t know if they will take it away,” Angela Moreno, a 67-year-old retiree said of the preferential treatment, “but if they do, Cubans who go to the United States will have to do it like people from other countries.”
Cubans arriving at a U.S. border or airport automatically receive permission to stay in the United States under policies stemming from the 1966 act, which allows them to apply for permanent residency after a year, almost always successfully.