The flow of Cubans into the Miami area has shifted in recent years because of stricter controls by the US Coast Guard. During fiscal year 2008, for example, 2,199 Cubans were interdicted at sea, down from 2,868 the year before, says US Coast Guard Lt. Matthew Moorlag, public affairs officer for the 7th District in Miami.
He attributes the drop to stricter enforcement, including greater cooperation between various federal agencies. "We certainly have an increased patrol presence," Mr. Moorlag says.
With beefed up security, Cubans have been heading for Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, just 120 miles west. And the easternmost island, Isla Mujeres, has been at the center of the new course, says Mr. Angulo Jimenez. In 2005, the Navy here intercepted 215 undocumented Cubans; that more than doubled to 480 last year.
Mexico is a logical destination for many Cubans because most caught here are simply fined and given up to 30 days to leave, says Mr. Molina Rios.
The head of the National Institute of Migration, Cecilia Romero, said that of 2,030 Cubans detained in Mexico from January through August, only 28 were returned home.
Most head north along the same routes that Mexicans and Central Americans have long taken in their attempts to get to the US. Yet unlike other immigrants, Cubans simply walk across the US border and apply for residency: under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, those caught in US waters are sent home, while those who reach land are usually allowed to stay.
It's become so common that it's garnered a new phrase: "dusty foot." But now, under the new policy between Cuba and Mexico, the majority could be repatriated home, says Molina Rios.
This will likely reduce the flows of Cubans attempting to reach the US via Mexico, says Eduardo Matias Lopez, who founded the Cuban-Mexican Civic Association in Mexico City. "But in terms of corruption, that will only increase," he says.