History of Cuban Immigration to the United States
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Throughout history, Cubans have come to the United States in search of a better life. Towards the end of the 19th century Cubans, especially musicians, began to settle in places such as New Orleans, Louisiana. Cubans played an influential role in the jazz music that New Orleans is now known for. This contributed to the start of American-Cuban connections throughout the United States. Cubans began to reside throughout various parts of the U.S., and Florida became a popular settling destination. Cuban
immigrants came in waves and began to establish their own communities. Cuban enclaves were established in certain neighborhoods, such as "Little Havana,” in Miami, Florida. Once a railroad was built in Florida, which provided easy travel within the state, many Cubans settled in Key West. Population growth among Cuban immigrants in the United States was fueled by the birth of children and additional migration of Cubans.
According to the 1910 Census, the number of Cubans in the U.S. was officially over 15,000. However, as with all Census figures, the actual number is believed to be larger since not everyone is accounted for. In 1959, the number of Cubans in the United States was estimated to be 124,000. With the Cuban revolution and the dictatorship of Fidel Castro, many Cubans who were unhappy with politics at home fled to the United States. Wealthy Cubans accounted for a large portion of United States immigrants, as they fled to protect their assets which were now threatened under a socialist regime. Others followed their families to their U.S. so that they would not be separated. Shortly after Fidel Castro came into power and during the early years of the revolutionary period, about 215,000 Cubans immigrated to the U.S.
Before 1985, there was no limit on how many Cubans could enter the U.S. if they followed normal immigration procedures. This was also true for other groups of immigrants as well. Unlike immigrants from other countries, Cubans were granted a special status which made it easier to gain residency. Other immigrants had to prove that they were fleeing for political reasons so that they could be granted the status of a refugee. On the other hand, upon entry onto United States soil, Cubans were automatically given refugee status along with other privileges. Some of these special privileges were introduced in 1966 and included gaining permanent residency status if the Cuban immigrant had resided in the U.S. for at least one year. For Cuban immigrants that had stayed longer than the time period granted on their visitor visas, they were still granted permanent residency.
Cubans had been entering the United States on a continuous basis after Fidel Castro took over, but it was not until the summer of 1994 that the U.S. experienced a huge wave of immigrants from Cuba. Approximately 33,000 Cubans fled to the U.S. due to trade relations with the Soviet Union. Because Cuba was dependent upon the Soviet Union for trade, the country was put into a dismal economic situation when trade between the two countries was suspended. As a result, the government instilled a rationing system to deal with food, electricity, and gasoline shortages. The discontent continued to grow among many Cubans who desired economic and political freedom; thus, many Cubans desired to flee their homeland. Due to the large wave of Cubans entering the country, the United States made an agreement in September 1994 that would limit the number of incoming Cubans to 20,000 annually. Out of 33,000 Cubans, nearly 31,000 were detained at Guantanamo Bay. In May 1995, the U.S. Attorney General announced that the Cubans in Guantanamo would be permitted to enter the United States if they had no criminal history. In March 1996, these Cubans were officially admitted as parolees. The perception of these parolees was that most would contribute to the U.S. economy since they were generally educated, professional, and highly motivated. In addition, they seemed to be able to assimilate well into communities such as Miami with minor problems. In this instance, the U.S. government ended up surpassing their annual limit of 20,000 immigration visas.