The Other Southern Border: Cuba’s Maritime Exodus and America’s Immigration Dilemma

, | Jan 29, 2024

Cuba is in the throes of the largest mass exodus in its history. Dire economic and political conditions fueled, in part, by a global pandemic and decades of US sanctions have led hundreds of thousands of Cubans — nearly 5% of the population — to emigrate from their island nation in recent years. Though most seek asylum in the United States through the US-Mexico border, many attempt the perilous 90-mile journey by sea — only to be intercepted and returned,  or forced into legal limbo with the future of their immigration status uncertain. 

As immigration on America’s southern border fuels partisan divisions — and tensions between State and Federal government — the Institute for Global Affairs examines the Cuban migration crisis, and America’s effort to police its less visible maritime border. In doing so, we come to better understand challenges inherent in an often byzantine and militarized immigration system — and America’s role in exacerbating these challenges.

This post is part of Independent America, a research project led out by IGA senior fellow Mark Hannah, which seeks to explore how US foreign policy could better be tailored to new global realities and to the preferences of American voters.

A brighter future for all