Cuba, US talk of immigration

Pressures for new immigration from Cuba are growing. Experts point to the evidence: Cubans, desperate to reach the United States, are risking dangerous, week-long trips -- sometimes aboard large inner tubes -- to cross the shark-infested Florida Straits.

Diplomatic talks on immigration, broken off earlier by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, are being resumed this week in Mexico City.

American officials are increasingly eager to send as many as 5,600 criminal immigrants now in US prisons, jails, and detention centers back to Cuba.

Cuban-Americans, many with close relatives still on the island, strongly support renewed immigration.

In Miami, you can hear the calls for Cuban immigration simply by switching on the radio. Each Sunday, Miami's two major Spanish-language stations open their airwaves for Cuban-Americans in Florida to broadcast messages to loved ones still on the island.

Lisandro Perez, a professor at Florida International University and an expert on Hispanic migration, observes:

``Presumably those two stations can be heard in Cuba. So people call up to send messages to their kin in Cuba. They're sending messages to immediate family members, to their mothers, to their brothers. A lot of families are separated.''

The atmosphere for renewed immigration was ripe this week as US officials confirmed that talks are being started with Cuba in Mexico City.

Earlier, the Reagan administration had struck a deal with Cuba to normalize immigration patterns between the two countries. But that deal collapsed in a storm of accusations from Havana when the White House went through with plans to launch Radio Mart'i, with broadcasts aimed at the Cuban people. But experts say that Castro cannot indefinitely resist pressures for immigration.

Dr. Perez notes that immigration from Cuba has occurred in waves about six years apart. The last major wave of immigration was in 1980, when 125,000 Cubans arrived during the Mariel boatlift.

These periodic exoduses help Castro and his government by providing a safety valve for Cubans who become frustrated with the communist system.

The first major wave of immigration occurred about six years after Castro's revolution. President Lyndon B. Johnson, with Castro's cooperation, authorized ``freedom flights'' that brought 292,442 Cubans to the US between 1965 and 1973.

That was followed by a further, six-year gap. Then in 1980, Castro authorized departures by boat from Mariel, Cuba. The result was a wild, disorganized sealift from April until October.

Miami was swamped with immigrants. Thousands of the new arrivals were from Cuba's prisons and mental wards, pushed out by Castro along with political dissidents and economic migrants.

Federal officials vow that nothing like that will happen again. US agencies have contingency plans to cut off any mass departures from Cuba. This time, immigration will be orderly, with the US passing on the fitness of every immigrant, officials say.

The earlier US-Cuba agreement, before Radio Mart'i, called for Cuba to accept back the criminal element from the Mariel boatlift. In exchange, Cuba will be allowed to compete equally with other nations for its share of legal immigrants to the US.

Experts say the agreement with Cuba could lead to admission of 20,000 to 30,000 Cuban immigrants a year. Almost all of them would probably settle in the Miami area.

Cubans and other Hispanics now make up the largest minority (42 percent) in Dade County, ahead of both whites and blacks. Additional migration of Cubans, combined with a continuing exodus of whites, is expected to lead to majority status for Hispanics in Miami in the near future.

Adding to the Latin flavor of south Florida are an estimated 100,000 illegal aliens from Nicaragua, many of them refugees from the Marxist revolution in that country. There are also uncounted numbers from Colombia, El Salvador, and other Latin American nations, including a growing number from Mexico.

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