TAMPA, Fla. — A cruise ship that left Tampa over the weekend helped to rescue a boat of nearly 30 Cuban nationals who were stranded at sea. But this isn’t the first time it’s happened, and it’s part of an even greater number of Cubans immigrating to the U.S.

What You Need To Know

  • More Cuban immigrants are making their way to Tampa and parts of south Florida

  • Since 2022, the U.S. has seen a record-breaking number of Cuban immigrants

  • Rafael Pizano is an advocate for Cuban immigrants and says he’s going to continue helping his Cuban community

According to Lutheran Services Florida, since January 2022, they’ve served more than 30,000 Cubans who have arrived in Hillsborough County.

One man who’s seen the increase of Cubans into Florida has been an advocate for his Cuban community for many years.

There’s nothing like a cup of coffee to start off the day. It’s a daily ritual for Rafael Pizano and his dad, Roberto Pizano.

“This is so close to us like anything else, so every day, we make a little bit of coffee and it’s our talk time,” he says.

It’s through every sip that draws them closer to their Cuban roots. Rafael’s father came to the U.S. because he was pushed into exile many years ago.

It’s one of the reasons they share their story to help shine light on the challenges many Cubans face.

“People are going to risk their life: one, it’s a better life, two, they’re escaping a dictatorship that doesn’t change. It’s been the same for 65 years,” he said.

Since 2022, the U.S. has seen a record-breaking number of Cuban immigrants.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports more than 400,000 Cubans were encountered at U.S. ports of entry.

University of South Florida’s Director of Immigrant Wellbeing, Elizabeth Aranda, said traveling by boat isn’t common, but it still happens.

She also said there could be other ways that Cubans are coming in large numbers.

“Nicaragua started allowing flights from Cuban nationals without a visa, so that opened another route. It might have accelerated migration,” Aranda said.

She also said that most Cuban immigrants who come to Florida live in the southern part of the state, with Tampa being the second largest in Cuban migration.

Rafael says it’s been years of work to make a difference for Cuba. He believes that if the Cuban Democracy Act was enforced, it would bring that change.

“Sometimes, it’s just difficult to get that message to the highest levels of a government,” he said.

But through the obstacles, they’ll continue to pave a way for their Cuban community with the hope that one day they’ll return to a free Cuba.

With the increase in migration for Cubans, the Biden administration’s parole program and the recent update to the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program have made it easier for many Cuban immigrants to connect with loved ones in the U.S. and in Cuba.