By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN and CHRISTINE ARMARIO
HAVANA (AP) — The number of Cubans heading to the United States has soared since the island lifted travel restrictions last year, and instead of making the risky journey by raft across the Florida Straits, most are now passing through Mexico or flying straight to the U.S.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol figures show that more than 22,000 Cubans arrived at the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada in the fiscal year that ended last month. That was nearly double the number in 2012, the year before restrictions were lifted.
The changes in Cuban law eliminate a costly exit visa and make it easier for Cubans to both leave and return to the island legally. Reform of property laws now allows Cubans to sell homes and vehicles, helping would-be emigrants pull together the cash needed to buy airline tickets. With greater access to cash and legal travel documents, the historic pattern of Cuban migration is shifting from daring dangerous voyages at sea to making the journey by air and then land.