WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After six years, the United States Embassy announced Wednesday it is re-opening visa and consular services in Cuba.
"I left my country in search of freedom, and I have found that freedom in the United States, and as long as I live, I will speak against that totalitarian government in Cuba," said Mirta Luaces, who was born in Cuba and now lives in West Palm Beach.
She has been living in the United States for 60 years.
Luaces escaped with her husband as a teenager thanks to a visa waiver and was granted political asylum.
"A lot of Cubans we reached out to today were scared to talk, can you tell us why?" asked WPTV reporter Joel Lopez.
"Yeah they are scared to talk you now why, because the repercussions the government might take on their relatives," answered Luaces. "You can not tell your friends, your neighbors that you want to leave the country because you never know what is going to happen."
Luaces says political turmoil and economic issues are driving people from the island country.
According to U.S. government data over the last year, nearly 250,000 Cubans have migrated to the U.S., many risking their lives coming by boat or flying to Central America to try and cross the border.
"Not only is it risking people's lives but it's a burden for their family members here. First of all, it costs a lot of money, it costs close to $10,000 per person and then when they come here, they have to wait almost a year to get a work permit," Luaces said. "And now they have hope, to bring their relatives here legally, without risking their lives."
The embassy says some 20,000 visas are expected to be granted a year with a priority on permits that reunite Cubans with family in the U.S.
"They will come with permanent residence. They will come with working permit, and they will have all the necessary resources to be legally in the united states, and to start all over again," Luaces said. "It's not a solution but it's an option for people that want to leave."
Luacie says the only family she had left in Cuba was from her husband's side, all of which have since passed, including her husband, who never saw his family again.
"What do you hope is next for your country?" Lopez asked.
"I wish it would be free, I want to go back but I will never go back under this regime," Luaces said.
There are still restrictions on things like tourism travel to Cuba, and import and exports of many goods.
In late December, U.S. authorities reported stopping Cubans 34,675 times along the Mexico border in November, up 21% from 28,848 times in October.
Month-to-month, that number has gradually risen. Cubans are now the second-largest nationality after Mexicans appearing on the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data show.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard Coast Guard repatriated 75 migrants to Cuba after interdictions 22 miles south of Plantation Key, about 16 miles south of Duck Key, about 16 miles southeast of Cay Sal, Bahamas and about 94 miles southwest of Marquesas.
Since Oct. 1, Coast Guard crews interdicted 4,153 Cubans with 6,182 in 2022 and 838 in 2021.
Associated Press contributed to this report