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New Cuban escape route: via Mexico

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"The option of repatriation will reduce the number of Cubans arriving in Mexico," says Luis Alberto Molina Rios, the director of the regional office in Cancun of the National Institute of Migration for the state of Quintana Roo. "Today they know that if they are caught here, within 30 days they can be in the US."

Migration route shifting

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.

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