Cold War animosity has thawed between the United States and Cuba, and President Barack Obama has planned a March 21 trip to the Havana to further positive ties between the two countries.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently went to Cuba to try and drum up some business, but the move isn't exactly reciprocal. For the past few years, Cubans have been coming to Texas.
NPR correspondent John Burnett says it’s perhaps in anticipation of the shifting U.S.-Cuba relationship. Miami has been the traditional point of entry for Cuban immigrants, but tens of thousands have been filtering through the Texas-Mexico border at Laredo.
"The pipeline has shifted," Burnett says. "Quite remarkably, the Cubans are streaming across the international bridges from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, into Laredo, Texas.”
In 2014 and 2015, more than 67,000 Cubans crossed the border, with 65 percent coming in through south Texas.
“They're getting tourist visas to Ecuador,” Burnett says. “From there, they go up through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica. They fly to El Salvador, then Guatemala, then Mexico. Then they fly into Nuevo Laredo and cross the bridge into Laredo."
The migration has gotten a lot of people’s attention along the southern border of Texas, Burnett says, and the Cubans are not entirely welcome. Cuban immigrants are automatically allowed entry into the states upon showing U.S. border authorities their passport, thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. Cuban immigrants also get food stamps, a work permit, Medicaid enrollment and a path to permanent residency.
Since there has been a warming in relations with Cuba, Burnett says the act is outdated.
"No one known when it's gonna change,” Burnett says. “But still Cubans are streaming into the U.S. over the land bridge, because they feel like the wind is going to shift at some point.
In the meantime, the Democratic Congressman from Laredo, Henry Cuellar, has come out against the mass immigration. He says there’s a double standard and Cuban immigrants – mainly coming for economic reasons – have a relatively easy border crossing.
But there are many Central American immigrants crossing the border, Burnett says. Fleeing criminal street gangs and violence, these immigrants surrender to border control only to be detained indefinitely or given ankle monitors, and then are deported.
"That offends people in South Texas," Burnett says.