Cuban Migration to the United States

Cuban Migration to the United States
Cuban Migration to the United States

Movements of people from Cuba to the United States comprise a longstanding feature of both countries’ histories. The panic of 1857 prompted numerous Cuban cigar manufacturers to move their operations to Key West, Tampa, and elsewhere along the Florida coast.

During and after the Ten Years’ War (1868–78), several thousand Cubans formed exile communities along the U.S. eastern seaboard—especially in Key West, Tampa, Ocala, and Jacksonville, Florida, and further north in New York City. The 1850 U.S. census shows 969 persons of Cuban birth living in the United States, with most (275) in Louisiana and 23 in Florida.

By 1860 there were 2,056, with 55 in Florida. That number more than tripled by 1870, reaching 6,515, with about half (3,014) in New York and less than a fifth (1,147) in Florida. By 1880 the figure rose slightly to 7,004, with Florida (2,625) surpassing New York (2,253), followed by Louisiana (652) and Pennsylvania (359, with 309 in Philadelphia).

In 1900, in the aftermath of the Cuban War of Independence and the U.S. military intervention and occupation of the island, 11,243 Cuban-born persons were listed, including 6,645 in Florida (3,378 in Tampa, 3,015 in Key West) and 2,251 in New York. In 1910 the number rose to 15,725, remaining stagnant to 1920 (15,822). All of the above figures likely undercounted the actual number.

A much larger movement of Cubans to the United States began with the Cuban revolution, which came to power in January 1959. From 1960 to 1962 an estimated 195,000 Cubans immigrated to the United States, mostly professionals and members of the middle class, with most settling in Miami, Florida; Union City, New Jersey; and New York City.

The exodus continued in several waves through the 1960s and into the 1970s, becoming integral to cold war politics, welcomed by the U.S. government and materially harming the Cuban economy, even as the exoduses proved politically useful to the Castro regime.

The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) allowed undocumented Cuban immigrants to stay in the country and gain permanent residence after one year, rights not extended to any other immigrant group. In 1980 some 125,000 Cubans, the so-called Marielitos, emigrated to the United States in the Mariel boatlift. In the summer of 1994 at Castro’s invitation, an estimated 33,000 Cubans made the journey.

The exodus prompted the U.S. government to negotiate an agreement with Cuba, in September 1994, in which the United States agreed to admit a minimum of 20,000 Cubans annually, and emigrants intercepted at sea would no longer be permitted to enter the United States.

In 1995 the 1966 CAA was revised to incorporate the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which stipulated that undocumented Cuban immigrants who reached U.S. soil (“dry feet”) would be permitted to apply for permanent residence status in one year, while those intercepted at sea (“wet feet”) would be sent back to Cuba or to a third country.

The 2000 U.S. census enumerated 1,241,685 persons of Cuban ancestry in the United States, comprising 3.5 percent of U.S. Hispanics and 0.4 percent of the U.S. population of 281.4 million. Most lived in Miami– Dade County, Florida, with 525,841 Cuban-born, the single largest national group among large influxes of Haitians, Dominicans, Central Americans, and others from the 1980s especially.

As a result of these demographic changes, the politics and culture of south Florida have undergone profound shifts, with relatively affluent, politically conservative, and vehemently anti-Castro Cuban Americans increasingly shaping the region’s economy, politics, and culture.