On a picturesque beach in South Sound, there is an abandoned boat. The waves pound upon its boards and planks. Scattered on the sand are dozens of containers, for provisions and unspent fuel. Near the bow of the makeshift wooden vessel, a simple message is painted in three capital letters: “USA.”
The photograph of the Cuban boat on the front page of Tuesday’s newspaper is an image of a dream deferred. The 43 Cuban migrants who arrived in Grand Cayman on May 6 will not achieve their goal of escaping their home country and reaching the United States … at least not this time.
For now, they have been detained by Cayman Islands immigration officials, who currently have 116 Cuban migrants in custody in various locations around the island. What follows next is a bureaucratic waiting game, with the probable result being transportation back to Cuba by air, and then, perhaps, some day, more attempts to flee.
It is important to understand the tremendous risks that these people take when they fling their lives upon the mercy of the sea. For the migrants who head south from Cuba, if and when they finally reach land in Central America, their journey has just begun. From there they face an arduous trek of 1,500 miles or more — on foot, by car, on trains … any way possible — across multiple borders, facing natural elements, government officials and organized criminals; until they maybe, at last, attain their Promised Land, of the Free, of Opportunity, etc.
It is just as important to recognize the rewards that — perhaps aren’t actually received — but that these migrants anticipate, and upon which they have pinned all their dreams, and all their hopes.
The experiences of the disappointed Cuban migrants who wash ashore in Cayman are very different from what happens to those who do successfully reach the U.S.
The New York Times recently published a story based on interviews with a group of a dozen Cubans who made landfall in the Florida Keys. The men expressed gratitude in two equal measures — for being in America, and for no longer being in Cuba.
“What you have here is a nest of hope,” one migrant said. “What you have there is a nest of scorpions.”
Instead of an immigration detention facility, the Cubans who reached Florida were taken to a nonprofit assistance center run by the Roman Catholic Church. They were put up in a motel in the short term. Half were to be transported to Las Vegas, Nevada, to find work, and the other half to Austin, Texas. The dreams of these dozen were, in fact, realized.
As has been related in The New York Times and many other news sources, Cubans are saying that they are more afraid than ever that if they don’t get out of Cuba now, they may never be able to enjoy the special protections still being extended to Cuban migrants by the U.S. (i.e., “wet-foot, dry-foot”).
In Cayman, we are witnessing the effects of the nascent U.S.-Cuban thaw, and the turbulent diplomatic and political currents, in the form of the swelling numbers of migrants whose journeys end prematurely in our waters or on our shores.
The agreement Cayman has in place with Cuba, to detain the migrants and have them returned to the land from which they tried to flee, is far from ideal. It is, to many Cayman residents, undesirable or even distasteful. It is also expensive. But, unlike the vast nation of the U.S., Cayman cannot possibly accommodate even a small portion of the Cuban migrants who might wish to stay.
Although the conditions in Cuba may be the source of the problem, Cayman is the recipient. Unfortunately, that doesn’t look to change, unless or until the U.S. alters its policies on accepting Cuban migrants (and extinguishes their beacon of hope).
The problem of how to handle Cuban migrants may remain one for which Cayman may not have an adequate solution.