Approximately 2,924 Cubans have been intercepted at sea during the 12 months ended Sept. 30, the highest figure in two decades, according to data from the U.S. Coast Guard reported by the Orlando Sentinel.
The trend does not appear to be abating: in October, 433 Cubans were stopped a sea, a figure higher than any month in the previous fiscal year. From the Sentinel:
Experts say that many on the island who want to come to the U.S. fear that America's renewed relationship with Cuba would make getting a visa more difficult, or end the favorable treatment granted to Cuban immigrants.
According to the Miami Herald, more than 20,300 Cubans without visas sought to leave their country for the United States last year by crossing the Mexican border or boarding boats and sailing to South Florida.
The U.S. has a unique policy with regard to Cuban—and only Cuban—refugees trying to enter the U.S. For decades, U.S. policy has stated that any Cuban who successfully makes it to American shores can apply for permanent residency. If they're caught at sea, they are brought back to Cuba. It's unofficially known as the "wet foot-dry foot" policy.
In September, footage captured by South Beach beachgoers showed a group of Cubans landing in the heart of Miami's most populous tourist area on a rickety boat after a perilous six-day journey at sea:
…And aerial footage:
In contrast to what you might expect given the tone of some of the rhetoric surrounding undocumented immigrants, the party was immediately welcomed. One South Beach vacationer even gave them $100 each, according to station WSVN.
"They're treated very differently," Marc R. Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute, recently told Fox News Latino.
The policy's status remains top of mind for many in Miami. In a Q&A with the Miami Herald, Herald correspondents asked presidential candidate Ben Carson his views on wet-foot dry-foot. Carson replied he wasn't even familiar with it.
Meanwhile, the U.S.'s most prominent Cuban American believes the policy should be reexamined.
"It gets very difficult to justify someone's status as an exile and refugee when a year and a half after they get here, they are flying back to that country over and over again," Fla. Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio said in January.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.