More than 3,000 Cuban migrants traveling through Central America — hoping to reach the United States — will be airlifted from Panama to Mexico to continue their migration to the U.S., according to a new report.
According to In Cuba Today, more than 670 Cubans are currently being held at the Los Planes shelter in Panama, where they are expected to be joined by another 3,000 Cubans, currently held up at the Costa Rica border. Once at the shelter the migrants will be counted and then airlifted to Mexico.
In Cuba Today reports that Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela indicated last week that the coming airlift will be the final one, and that the country will be closing its borders to the Cuban migration.
“Once the transfer of those Cubans included in the census is completed, those who arrive later will have to decide which country they want to return to,” Varela said according to the In Cuba Today. “We cannot become the logistical support for an irregular migration route.”
In recent months the level of migration from Cuba to the U.S. has surged as Cubans leave the island nation seeking the special protections the U.S. offers every Cuban who reaches U.S. soil, per provisions of the Cuban Adjustment Act. Since October of 2014, some 75,000 Cubans have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.
The surge in migration from Cuba has coincided with the Obama administration’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba and reports have indicated that Cubans fear the special protections granted to them under the Cuban Adjustment Act will fade with the newly redeveloped relationship.
As Cubans seek to make it to the U.S. by migrating through Central America, some Central American countries, including Panama, have simply dealt with the influx by flying the migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Last week a senior State Department official admitted to a Senate panel that the Obama administration has not discouraged the airlifts.
“We have not told them not to do the airlift,” Francisco Palmieri, an official with Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said when questioned by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) during a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing.
Palmieri noted that Costa Rica and Panama have flown about 8,000 Cubans to the U.S.-Mexico border so far this year.
Rubio has called for an end to automatic refugee protections under the Cuban Adjustment Act for Cuban migrants, arguing such protections should be given to Cubans who have truly been persecuted.