Maykel Crespo is Cuban immigrant who has lived in the US for the past nine years. He attepted the dangerous maritime crossing seven times before finally reaching the United States at age 19. He attended college in the US and is now employed in a bank. He writes the blog Diversionismo Ideologico
The southernmost tip of the United States is Key West, Florida. It’s about 90 miles [140 km] from the Cuban coastline. Every Cuban “balsero” seeks to set foot there when he sets out on his journey.
The kind of boat used by an illegal migrant depends on his financial means. Those who can afford to pay 10,000 dollars travel on a safe, well-built boat that can carry 12 or so people and a ferryman. They have GPS navigation and usually take about eight or nine hours to get across. The rest, on the other hand, are forced to build makeshift rafts themselves with anything they can find: car parts, tyres, wooden boards, a sail made of sheets… These migrants rely on a compass for navigation, and the journey can take several days – if they arrive at all.
There is a “wet foot, dry foot policy”
concerning illegal Cuban migrants: a Cuban caught on the waters between Cuba and the US is summarily sent home or to a third country, while one who makes it to shore (“dry feet”) gets a chance to remain in the US and apply for legal permanent resident status. You cannot imagine the risks Cubans are ready to take to set foot on US soil. They sell everything they own and get into debt; they leave their wives and children behind.
In some exceptional cases, migrants found at sea are still allowed to enter US territory: for example, if they need immediate medical assistance, they will be sent to a US hospital, then allowed to remain in the country. My cousin was allowed into the country because one of the passengers on his boat died during the journey. When US coast guards intercepted them, they had to open an investigation into the cause of death. My cousin was kept in the country to serve as a witness, and he has been here for three years. It’s terribly cynical, but in his case one person’s tragedy was another person’s chance.
Living condiitons in Cuba are very bad, and many Cubans see the United States as a land of opportunity. The hardest part, for us, is not being seen by US coast guards. Once in America, we're saved."