US launches first deportation flight to Cuba since COVID-19

The US anticipates an increase in arrivals across its southern border with Mexico as COVID-19 restrictions expire.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during the National Action Network National Convention in New York City.
US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has indicated the US is preparing for the end of COVID-era restrictions along the US-Mexico border [File: Jeenah Moon/Reuters]

The United States has sent its first deportation flight to Cuba since 2020, months after the island nation agreed — for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic — to accept flights carrying Cubans caught at the US-Mexico border.

“On April 24, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement resumed normal removals processing for Cuban nationals who have received final orders of removal,” a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The Cuban government confirmed the flight’s arrival, saying on Twitter it included 40 Cubans intercepted in boats and 83 detained at the US-Mexico border.

The Reuters news agency first reported late last year that Cuba agreed to give US authorities a new but limited tool to deter record numbers of Cuban border crossers.

After US President Joe Biden adopted more restrictive border security measures in January, the number of Cubans and other asylum seekers and migrants caught at the border plummeted.

However, the Biden administration is preparing for a possible rise in crossings with COVID restrictions at the US-Mexico border set to lift on May 11. The administration will say more about its preparations this week, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on Thursday.

US and Cuban officials discussed migration issues earlier this month as the Biden administration braced for the end of COVID-era border restrictions that have blocked Cubans in recent months from crossing into the US from Mexico.

The US embassy in Havana resumed full immigrant visa processing and consular services in January for the first time since 2017 in a bid to stem record numbers of Cubans trying to enter the US from Mexico.

“The United States continues to encourage Cubans to use lawful processes,” the DHS spokesperson said on Monday.

The Biden administration in January began expelling Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans crossing the US-Mexico border under restrictions known as Title 42, while also opening new legal pathways for those groups.

Source: Reuters