Cuban-Americans stream to the island for holidays

December 23, 2011 - 3:20 AM
Cuba Travel

Travelers wait in line with their luggage at Miami International Airport before traveling Cuba, Monday, Dec. 19, 2011, in Miami. As the holidays approach this year, thousands of Cuban-Americans are taking advantage of the Obama administration's relaxed travel regulations to return to the island. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI (AP) — Thousands of Cuban-Americans are flying to the island this week to celebrate the new year. These types of annual pilgrimages would have been sharply curtailed if two South Florida, GOP Cuban-American congressmen had succeeded in returning to the Bush-era limit of once every three years. The measure was tucked into the congressional spending bill. But Republican leaders jettisoned it last week in a last-minute compromise.

President Barack Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans in 2009. Exact numbers are difficult to come by, but the Cuban government said earlier this year it expected about 500,000 U.S. visitors. The majority of them are Cuban-Americans. Cuban officials did not respond to requests for statistics from past years. They previously said there were nearly 300,000 visits from Cubans outside the island in 2009.