LAREDO — A fast-rising influx of Cubans are crossing the border into Texas by the hundreds each day, approved to enter the United States in a matter of hours.
They walk out to a Laredo street and are greeted by volunteers from Cubanos en Libertad, or Cubans in Freedom, a nonprofit. The volunteers help them arrange travel to their U.S. destination — often Miami — and start applying for work permits and such federal benefits as food stamps and Medicaid, available by law to Cubans immediately after their arrival.
“Right now I feel like the freest Cuban in the whole world,” said Rodny Nápoles, 39, a coach of the Cuban national women’s water polo team who crossed into Laredo this week.
The friendly reception given the Cubans, an artifact of hostile relations with the Castro government, is a stark contrast with the treatment of Central American families fleeing violence in their countries. And it is creating tensions in this predominantly Mexican-American city, where residents saw how Central American migrants, who came in an influx in 2014, were detained by the Border Patrol and ordered to appear in immigration courts.
“The people here are starting to feel resentment,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. “They are asking, is it fair that the Cubans get to stay and the Central Americans are being deported?”