Sandra, a 31-year-old Holguin mother, is struggling tremendously to care for her two children, alone, because her husband has recently left the country. Doybel, her eldest son, is 11 years old, and Lesly is just two. Alexey, her spouse, is another young Cuban father who is in Mexico "waiting for his turn on the application to enter the United States," she explains.
"You have to make sacrifices to get the family ahead. The children and I miss him very much, and we cry almost every day talking on WhatsApp, but we have to be strong. We're also afraid that something might happen to him, God forbid! I even made a promise to the Virgen del Cobre, which I'll honor when he comes to visit for the first time," says Sandra.
"We know it 's going to be hard until he gets there (into the US) and starts working, to send us money so we can be a bit better off, but we're going to stand strong, no matter what. Being separated for so long is terrible, and puts their marriage to the test. That's always a danger. It'll be many years until he can get us out, but it's the only way out of this misery. There's nothing else in sight," she adds.
"Here we kill ourselves working and can't get ahead at all. Everything goes for food and clothes for the kids, and we don't even have what's necessary. Work is useless here, so you have to leave and pay the price of being away. And, if you protest, they put you in jail. I was already scared with my husband because he was talking a lot and 'these people' will take you away in the wink of an eye. He's better off going away so we can fix our lives," Sandra says resolutely.
A daughter who has been a victim of trafficking
Yaumara and Henry have two children: a 25-year-old boy and a 21-year-old girl. "My dream was for them to go to college like us, but it was impossible to convince my daughter; since she was in the twelfth grade, she didn't want to. And my son, after starting Architecture, dropped out in his second year to work freelance. It was hard for us, but we had to understand that times change, and they sized up the situation and decided that they didn't want to waste time or be deceived like we were," they say.
"However, we had setbacks: my daughter Elaine fell into the clutches of a trafficker, a Cuban who lives there, (in Florida), who posed as her boyfriend. She made the journey and passed through Tijuana. When she arrived, he took her documents and drugged her, forcing her to work as a prostitute and to pole dance under violent threats and a debt of thousands and thousands of dollars that she had to pay."
"We learned recently that he told her that the debt was three times what it had cost to get there. We didn't know anything here. We thought that everything was fine, because that lowlife sent us everything, a lot of food, and told us that she was safe with him."
"A friend helped her, and she got away. Luckily, then she had a boyfriend who helped her confront the trafficker, who accepted an agreement to be paid only what he spent on the crossing, and, as profit, what he had already made by sexually exploiting her. That underworld is horrible. Fortunately, now she's free of that," she says.
"She is doing well there. She works at a boutique and helps us with what she can. It hurts to recognize that if it weren't for her help, despite what happened to her, we would now be starving on our salaries as educators (graduates!). They're not even enough for three days."
The whole family is leaving!
The Rodríguez Sablón family is quite large and close. Five years ago only one of its members had emigrated illegally, in a rickety boat. "When he came back, almost every year, the folks' house was full. He was the exception, going over there, and here we were, in the same place as always," says Arístides, the eldest of the brothers.
"Since then a niece defected from a medical mission in Venezuela and left for the United States. Nine grandchildren have already left on the journeys. Seven of my nephews, and my two children, along with another brother of mine too," Aristides adds.
"Of those, there are still three in Mexico. But that's not all: there are two others waiting for their dates to fly to Nicaragua, and then there are those who hope to be helped by those who are leaving now, when they have settled down and better off. I mean, the whole family is leaving!"
At this time emigration, along with the economic crisis, with staggering inflation and shortages of basic necessities, is one of the biggest issues being talked about. News reports put the number of Cubans stationed in southern Mexico at more than 20,000, waiting for an appointment on the CBP ONE application to migrate to the United States.
But the figure is just a "snapshot" of the moment, because people are constantly heading for their appointments, and more are arriving. Biden's policy of offering a humanitarian parole program to three countries, including Cuba, has not averted illegal migration to the United States, and the Cuban Communist Party government seems to continue to be interested in migration as a kind of pressure relief valve mitigating popular dissatisfaction, and as a potential source of dollars from remittances.
It is a cruel industry, one that uses the suffering of Cuban families as a bargaining chip. In many cases, they rupture. In the best, they are separated for many years. Yet to be studied is the academic and behavioral impact on children whose parents have left them with close relatives in order to emigrate.