Cubans stranded in Panama have started to buy plane tickets for direct flights from Panama to Mexico, where they will continue on to the U.S. border.
About 1,300 Cubans were stranded at Panama's northern border with Costa Rica, after Costa Rica stopped granting temporary transit visas in December to Cubans passing through on their way to the United States. Costa Rica acted because Nicaragua, to its north, closed its border to U.S.-bound Cubans.
The islanders in Panama will be able to take direct flights to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas. They then present themselves to U.S. border inspectors and are admitted under the terms of the Cuban Adjustment Act and its "wet foot, dry foot" policy. The migrants will have to pay for the flights, which will cost $523. In order to purchase a plane ticket, the Cubans are required to have a passport and a health certificate which is being issued by the Panamanian health authorities through a special operation.
According to a press release issued last week by Panama's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Panama and Mexico reached an agreement for the transfer of the Cuban migrants in a bilateral meeting on January 27 within the framework of the Fourth Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
As a result, Cuban migrants stranded in Panama and Costa Rica (who also have the option of a direct flight to Mexico) are effectively being dropped off at the United States' doorstep. Even so, the Obama administration has made it clear that it has no intention of changing its immigration policies towards Cubans, thus maintaining a significant incentive for Cuban migrants to illegally immigrate.