MIAMI, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- The number of Cubans arriving in the United States without visas has risen sharply in the past year, U.S. officials say.
There has been a surge in Cubans traveling to the United States from other countries -- including Spain, Ecuador, Mexico and Canada -- the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. Greater numbers are also traveling by boat to Florida.
Under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans intercepted at sea can be returned there, but those who make it to U.S. soil are free to stay. That means those who arrive by air or cross a land border are safe.
About 20,000 Cubans arrive every year on scheduled flights from Havana with visas. No one keeps an exact count of the others, but refugee groups estimate it is about 10,000 a year.
The Coast Guard detained 1,275 Cubans on boats intercepted before they reached Florida in the 12-month period ending Sept. 30. That was the highest number since 2008.
"The influx of Cubans into the U.S. is increasing," said Ernesto Cuesta, who runs programs for Haitian and Cuban refugees for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Miami. The young people we are seeing are desperate. There is no hope in Cuba."