Stranded in Mexico, Cubans Seek Refugee Status

By Kausha Luna, March 1, 2017

Over 50 Cubans, whose original intention was to cross the border into the United States, are now asking the Mexican government to allow them to stay in the country.

President Obama announced the end of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy with only a few days left in office. This outdated policy allowed all Cuban nationals who reached U.S. soil to be paroled into the country and receive legal status (those intercepted at sea were returned). As a result of the change in policy, Cubans (many of whom travelled through multiple Central American countries first) are stranded in Mexico, looking for an alternative to deportation.

Most recently a group of Cuban aliens presented themselves to Mexico's immigration officials in hopes of acquiring a salvaconducto, a safe-conduct permit which allows them legal transit through Mexico for a given number of days, but they were too late. Mexico began to deport Cuban illegal aliens soon after the end of the wet foot, dry foot policy. Consequently, the group members protested and requested that they be informed on how to apply for refugee status.

Per Mexico's Law on Refugees, Complementary Protection, and Political Asylum, all foreigners in the national territory have the right to solicit refugee status, despite illegal entry. Also, any immigration proceedings initiated due to illegal entry are suspended for those who request refugee status, and remain suspended until a decision is made about the requested status. Additionally, those who do not qualify for refugee status may then request complementary protection, which grants permanent resident status. Deportation processes are also be suspended for those seeking complementary protection.

Data from the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance shows that 98 Cubans requested refugee status in 2013, 39 of whom completed the proceedings. The other 59 abandoned or desisted the proceedings. Of the 39 who completed the process, 3 were granted refugee status and 36 were not recognized for either refugee status or complementary protection. In 2014, 96 Cubans requested refugee status, 8 concluded the proceedings, and 2 were recognized as refugees. The following year 37 islanders solicited refugee status, 7 concluded the process, and one was recognized as a refugee.

In July 2015 the Mexican government made it standard procedure to grant Cuban nationals with a salvoconducto, allowing them to reach the U.S. border. As a result, it can be expected that the 2016 statistics will show fewer Cubans applied for refugee status and were recognized, in comparison to previous years.

Now that the pipeline into the United States has been closed off, it is reasonable to anticipate an increase in Cuban applicants for refugee status in Mexico. However, it remains to be seen if the Mexican government will recognize more Cubans than it has in the past, or tighten its own immigration enforcement and continue deportations to the island. The latter seems more likely.