President Obama is coming to Cuba today. So why are so many Cubans leaving?
For one young couple in Havana, improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba weren’t a sign of hope, but a signal to get out.
In January, Leonid Castro used fake papers to travel to Mexico and then the U.S. border, where he asked for political asylum. A few months from now, his wife plans to join him.
They are a part of a movement of tens of thousands of Cubans who are fleeing the island even as it undergoes an unprecedented opening — a shift crystallized by President Obama’s historic visit to Havana on Sunday. Cuba is opening the door to more private enterprise and expects lots of new money flowing to the island as Obama eases travel and business restrictions. Yet more than 95,000 Cubans have left for the U.S. since 2014 — and more are on their way.
“They say things are changing, but it’s not changing for those on the bottom,” said Castro, who earned $25 a month as a cigar roller in a government factory in Havana; he now makes $8 an hour handing out fliers to tourists on the Las Vegas Strip. “I know that in America if I work, I can win.”
Castro, 30, is one of many Cubans who fear that warming relations with the U.S. may spell an end to the special status that allows Cubans to live and work legally in America if they can manage to reach U.S. soil. Instead of staying to see how the new Cuba plays out, Castro elected to make a move while immigration laws are still in his favor.