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Panama flies 200 Cuban immigrants to U.S.-Mexico border

By Allen Cone
Panama flies 200 Cuban immigrants to U.S.-Mexico border
Panama transported 238 Cuban migrants to Mexico on Monday as part of its plans to relocate 3,995 people. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Foreign Relations/YouTube

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico, May 10 (UPI) -- The immigration of 3,995 Cuban migrants from Panama hoping to eventually reach the United State has resumed.

A group of 238 people was flown Monday from Panama to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on the border with the United States, the Panamanian Foreign Ministry said.

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Under an agreement, Panama will send nearly 4,000 Cubans migrants to Mexico, where they will can stay up 20 days for "humanitarian reasons" due to "extraordinary circumstances," the ministry said. During this time they can secure passage to the United States.

Panama had organized some flights in March but had insisted the operation would not be repeated.

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Because of U.S. policies that allow subsidies and automatic residency, migrants fly into South American countries, and then walk or take buses through Central America north toward the United States. Since October 2014, some 75,000 Cubans have crossed the U.S. border, according to immigration data.

But thousands of Cubans have been stranded in Costa Rica and Panama after several countries closed the border last November. Costa Rica organized free flights to El Salvador and Mexico between January and March.

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The migrants have been told they have to pay for the flights.

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Panama President Juan Carlos Varela announced Monday the temporary closure of the border with Colombia to reduce the "passage of irregular migrants" affecting the region.

Varela said, "We will not allow the presence of people without immigration status. Everyone in our country should have immigration status. We will give humane treatment, and in two or three weeks change the immigration system."

The United States' so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy allows Cubans preferential treatment when they reach U.S. soil.

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The exodus intensified after President Barack Obama's announcement in December 2014 that the United States and Cuba work to restore diplomatic ties.

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