Cubans, fearing loss of favored status in U.S., rush to make an arduous journey

But in this case, the Cubans have a trump card: American law has long given them special status to live in the United States and apply for a green card — provided they make it there.

This latest wave of Cuban migration stems from a number of changes enacted by Cuba’s communist government in recent years, in part to jump-start the island’s feeble economy. People are allowed to sell their cars and real estate, a move that suddenly enabled many more to pay smugglers to get them to the United States. Cuba also began allowing its citizens to obtain passports and leave the country more freely, unleashing a rush for the exits.

If that was the kindling, the Obama administration’s decision in 2014 to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba served as the match. Rumors quickly circulated that with embassies reopening, the United States would soon eliminate the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives Cubans who make it to the United States a fast track to permanent legal residency…

Tens of thousands of Cubans have plunked down the profits of their home and car sales to pay for a treacherous 5,000-mile journey by plane, bus, boat and foot. Most have begun by flying to Ecuador, which did not used to require a travel visa. Then they have moved on to Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico in hopes of reaching the American border.