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What Do the US-Cuba Talks Mean for Refugee-Friendly Austin?

For decades, Austin has been a host to thousands of refugees arriving from Cuba. In fact, up until around 2010, Cubans were the largest single group of refugees in the city.

Now that diplomatic talks have started between the United States and Cuba, some in Austin wonder what role will our city play in this new relationship.

Luis Noguera has been in Austin for seventeen years and loves it. Speaking in Spanish, he says he was among the first refugees to arrive here.

When Noguera made it to Austin, the U.S. had just revised its Cuba policies and established the so-called "wet foot-dry foot" policy. What that means is that Cubans caught in the water, hence the "wet foot," would be sent back to their country. While those who made it to U.S. soil would be considered for the "dry foot" part of the policy and would be treated as political refugees.

The policy hasn't changed, although Noguera hopes it does. He believes now that there is a new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, its time for policies that will offer Cubans an alternative to fleeing the island in flimsy, unsafe boats.

He says over the years he's heard of people perishing in the ocean.

So far, none of the organizations that help Cuban refugees in Austin know what the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relationship will mean in terms of immigration policies. Experts believe change is imminent, but no one knows what the change will look like yet.

Unlike Noguera, newly-arrived Pedro Luis Cangas is skeptical about the meaning of this new relationship.

Cangas has only been in Austin for six months. He also feels more comfortable speaking in Spanish.

"If Fidel Castro and Raul Castro are still in power, and if communism is still the way of life there," he says. "There will be no change in Cuba."

Cangas says he believes the policies that welcome and protect Cubans in Austin will still be needed even after any forthcoming change in U.S.-Cuban relations.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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