Wet Foot, Dry Foot: Cuban Refugees Halted at Nicaraguan Border

“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.” ― Carlos Fuentes


Standoff at the border. Álvaro Sánchez/The Tico Times

Standoff at the border.
Álvaro Sánchez/The Tico Times

The scene at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border this past weekend is reminiscent of a Syrian refugee camp, but on a much smaller scale with about 2,000 Cuban refugees who are walking to the U.S. hoping for permanent residency.

“Walking?” you ask. Incredibly so. According to many of the articles below, the Cuban refugees have changed the flow of migration from a short dangerous raft ride… “wet feet passage” to a long arduous 5,000 mile journey starting in the Andes Mountains in Quito, Ecuador…”dry feet passage”. Why Ecuador? The reason is that Ecuador and Guyana are the only two countries in mainland Latin America that allow Cubans to enter without a visa.

The long passage to the United States is a result of the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that puts Cubans who reach U.S. soil on a fast track to permanent residency. The U.S. government initiated the policy in 1995 as an amendment to the1966 Cuban Adjustment Act that Congress passed when Cold War tensions ran high between the U.S. and the island nation.

Under the amendment, when a Cuban migrant is apprehended in the water between the two countries, he is considered to have “wet feet” and is sent back home. A Cuban who makes it to the U.S. shore, however, can claim “dry feet” and qualify for legal permanent resident status and U.S. citizenship.

The articles below clearly explain why many Cubans are leaving Cuba at a time when the U.S. has opened new relationships with Cuba. It should be a hopeful time for many Cubans, right? But, many disgruntled and pessimistic Cubans are increasingly nervous with no prospects of good jobs, and worried that President Obama may revoke the Cuban Adjustment Act.

The Cuban refugees were given a 7 day temporary visa to leave Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua. On Sunday, they arrived at the border, peacefully left Costa Rica and were denied entrance into Nicaragua because Nicaraguans never signed off on the plan. Some reports say that the Cuban refugees stormed through the border and were met by heavily armed Nicaraguan soldiers and anti-riot police that sprayed them with tear gas and shot at them with rubber bullets. Several people were injured including a 1 year-old girl.

We received this message from the U.S. Embassy in Managua:


Border Crossing Closures and Delays

Embassy Managua informs U.S. citizens living and traveling in Nicaragua of media reports of temporary border crossing closures and delays between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, as well as increased police and military presence along the border.  

U.S. citizens planning to enter or depart Nicaragua over a land border should closely monitor local media before attempting to travel.

Given the potential for long delays near border crossings, U.S. citizens should exercise caution in the vicinity of large gatherings of people and plan their trips accordingly.

Sunday, the border was closed. Monday, it reopened with long lines and long waits. The Red Cross and National Emergency Commission set up shelters to provide food and shelter in the little town of La Cruz, Costa Rica. However, it is a small shelter and reports are that over 800 Cubans are still at the border crossing sleeping wherever they can find a space on the concrete floors until this problem is resolved.

Fusion reports, “Sandinista spokeswoman and first lady Rosario Murillo released an angry statement Sunday evening blaming Costa Rica of “violating our national sovereignty” and threatening Nicaragua’s security by orchestrating the “forced entry of thousands of irregular emigrants of Cuban nationality.”

Sigh! I am really getting angry at the constant fighting between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It is always something. Did the Cuban refugees, unbeknownst to them, get caught in the crossfire of another spat between Costa Rica and Nicaragua?  Or, could the reason be “Instead, Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government is taking the opportunity to repay the Castro regime for years of generous solidarity by militarizing its border to halt the advance of Cuban emigrants who are considered traitors to the revolution,” as reported by Fusion?

Only time will tell… meanwhile, there are thousands of Cubans slowly making their way to Nicaragua from Ecuador and Guyana. Fusion reports, “A total of 18,397 Cubans have entered the U.S. at the Laredo border crossing in just the first nine months of this year—a 66% spike in traffic from last year, according to official U.S. data obtained by the Pew Research Center. Overall, 27,296 Cubans have entered the U.S. this year, up a whopping 78% from last year.”

All I know for sure is that we do indeed have a humanitarian crisis occurring throughout the world and it disturbs me greatly. I wish we lived in a world without borders and we could Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.

Crisis at the Border-TicoTimes

Nicaragua Turns Back Cuban migrants to Costa Rica-BBC

Exodus of Cubans walking to the U.S. is quickly becoming the Americas’ own refugee crisis-Fusion

Nicaragua Blames Costa Rica as Cubans Storm Border- Yahoo news

Nicaragua closes border to Cuban migrants, rebukes Costa Rica. -Reuters

8 thoughts on “Wet Foot, Dry Foot: Cuban Refugees Halted at Nicaraguan Border

  1. I am 100% with Nicaragua on this one. Nations have a right to secure their borders. Does Costa Rica think they have the right to tell huge numbers of refugees that they can enter Nicaragua without Nicaragua’s permission? Word is out to the poor and politically unhappy in all Central America that Uncle Sugar will support virtually any impoverished refugee at the expense of the middle class American taxpayer who, on the average, is in debt up to his tail.
    With 25 million people in America living in poverty, it is a moral outrage to extend our limited resources to huge numbers of foreigners.

    • Tommy,
      Thanks for your honest thoughts on the crisis at the border. Yes, nations do have a right to secure their borders, and no the refugees could not enter Nicaragua illegally. Costa Rica gave them temporary visas to pass through Costa Rica, but when they arrived at the border Nicaragua had not been notified that thousands of Cubans were going to cross into Nicaragua on their way to the U.S.
      If you live in Nicaragua, you are probably aware of the constant fights between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. If you don’t live in Nicaragua, there is a long history of problems between the two bordering countries.
      My opinion is that Nicaragua is upset because they weren’t warned by Costa Rica about the refugees entering and are refusing to allow them passage through Nicaragua creating a bottleneck at the border and lots of hassles for Costa Rica to deal with the Cuban refugees. I think the Cubans got caught in the middle of another argument between CR and Nicaragua. CR should have warned Nicaragua that they were coming. I think the lines of communications for the multitudes of Cuban refugees need to be opened among all the countries they pass through.
      The immigration problems facing the U.S. are complicated. Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the proposed ceiling is 85,000. For 2015 the ceiling is 70,000. Those with refugee status, like the Cubans, can be fast-tracked because of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. Those wanting to enter the U.S. without refugee status are called asylees and the process for entering the U.S. is very different than for refugees.
      The U.S. is not being overrun by immigrants. As a percentage of the U.S. population, the historic high actually came in 1890, when the foreign-born constituted nearly 15 percent of the population. By 2012, about 13 percent of the population was foreign-born. Today, the number has dropped and is stabilizing.
      There are many myths about immigration and some people are ruled by fear. I am not the least bit worried about the Cuban refugees seeking legal status in the U.S. Over 18,000 have already entered the U.S. this year. Congress sets the limit according to economic and other factors. My feeling is that it is a moral outrage to not extend our help to the refugees seeking shelter and safety.

      • I appreciate your thoughtful reply to my post, but I think 2 things need to be emphasized.

        First, those number you mentioned (70,00 and 85,000) only relate to legal immigrants. That is a drop in the bucket and probably not an issue with most people in a country of 300 million plus. The bigger problem – I have seem reliable estimates of 11-12 million illegals from Mexico and Central America in the US (not to mention other illegals from non Latino countries). This is a HUGE number, and in most states they can drawn down on a number of health care and other social welfare benefits paid for by American citizens. I do not think the majority of Americans support this largesse, but the government doesn’t care what the citizenry thinks; even though Joe Six Pack Gets the bill for it every April 15.

        Second, things were very different in the 1890s. We needed huge numbers of cheap unskilled laborers to fuel the industrial revolution. We don’t today. Also, in 1890, no-one in American seriously suggested that the public at large should subsidize the impoverished. You worked, or your family supported you, or you went hungry.

        I visit Nicaragua regularly, and I believe I have an ethical obligation to obey their laws whether I personally like them or not. If I showed up in Nicaragua, Cost Rica, or most of the developing world with no skills or financial resources, and demanded a drivers license, free medical care, subsidized housing, and food, the authorities would 1st laugh like hell, then put me on the next plane home – and rightly so.


        • I agree with what you have written, Tom. I only included the statistics for legal refugee status because that is what the Cubans will apply for under the Cuban Adjustment Act.
          As far as I can tell, the Cubans all have their passports and simply wanted to enter Nicaragua, pay for their visa stamp, and pass through Nicaragua on the way to the U.S. They had no intentions of staying in Nicaragua illegally.
          I read in a Cuban/Miami article today that Costa Rica is sending the Cuban refugees by boats to Honduras and bypassing Nicaragua.
          As far as illegal and undocumented immigrants in the U.S….well, that is another complicated issue. I am not sure what needs to be done, but something needs to be done and soon. Thanks for your additional thoughts, Tom.

  2. We now live in a world at a time of the most greatest turmoil,,,,,,this is only the beginning,,,,
    one of the top reasons I’m leaving the states.

    I pray for the people whose lives are in chaos and fear.

    He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world.

    Heidi Lane

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