The vast majority of Cubans sneaking off the island now enter the United States through Mexico. U.S. relatives pay thousands of dollars to organized crime networks that scoop them off Cuba's westernmost tip in souped-up speedboats.
The Mexico route is more dangerous than a direct, 90-mile voyage from Cuba to Florida, but there is less chance the U.S. Coast Guard will intervene. Nearly 90 percent of all undocumented Cubans who make it to America now come overland rather than reaching U.S. shores by boat, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
From the Mexican coast, Cubans travel up to the U.S. border, where unlike other undocumented migrants, they are welcomed in under U.S. law.
Mexico, already struggling against organized crime, is paying the price for the migration shift, especially in Cancun, the nation's glittering Caribbean getaway. On Monday, investigators there found the body of a Cuban-American from Miami, Luis Lazaro Lara Morejon, handcuffed and with duct tape over his eyes. He had been shot 10 times, obliterating his face.
Days earlier, authorities had arrested at least eight people on suspicion of smuggling Cubans to Mexico, including six Cubans with U.S. residency or citizenship who had just been interviewed by U.S. authorities. Lara had connections to the suspects, Mexican investigators say.
Some 9,296 Cubans arrived in the United States from Mexico between Oct. 1 and July 22, more than double the 4,589 who crossed or were picked up by the Coast Guard in the Florida Straits during the same period.
A speedboat smuggler making the 120-mile dash from Cuba to Mexico's Yucatan peninsula can earn $30,000 per haul of 30 or more Cubans.
The money usually comes from relatives in the United States.