Migrations from Puerto Rico to the United States mainland started as early as 1898 when the island officially become a United States territory, but it wasn’t until the 2000-2011 period, that the very largest migration wave, of a staggering 300,000 officially tilted the scales – making the United States mainland the home to more native Puerto Ricans than Puerto Rico itself. The major draw of the United States is economic opportunity. The unemployment rate of the island nation is currently sitting at 15%, nearly twice the rate of the United States as a whole. Furthermore, the worldwide economic collapse around 2006-2007 grossly affected Puerto Rico, expediting even more migration from the already economically trouble region. Historically, the main seat of Puerto Rican migration has been New York City in the States, making the 2000-2011 migrants follow their islander counterparts. The major reason for the choice of New York City as a hub for Puerto Ricans originated during WWII, where New York City became a hub for factory production of war good. With most of the men off to war, the factories needed manpower and Puerto Ricans, both male and female, were ready and willing to fill those open spots. Eventually, Puerto Ricans would gain labor skills and move in higher up positions, employing more of their brethren from the island. New York City would come to be the seat of 70% of the Puerto Rican population in the state of New York, forming “barrios” or small ethnic enclave neighborhoods through the city and its boroughs. The Dominicans had a very similar migration experience like the Puerto Ricans, except theirs came significantly later. Also plagued by economic depression on their respective island nation, Dominican migration jump-started in the 1960s, in the wake of massive political turmoil after dictator Rafael Trujillo was assassinated by rebels with the United States’ military backing. The majority of Dominican immigrants come to the Untied States legally and obtain citizenship via “familial reunification.” Their largest hub is in New York City as well – mostly chosen because of low-skilled labor jobs offered in the boroughs. This is to suggest that the Dominican population in the United States is somewhat of a large “extended family.” Employment channels rarely if ever contribute to the Dominican immigration, which is unlike the primary Puerto Rican migration pattern. As a result of this, Dominicans are far more likely to be under the poverty line than other Caribbean-originated New Yorkers. They are also more likely to have low English proficiency and only a high-school education. While the majority of Dominicans immigrated to the United States prior to 2000, there has been a significant influx between 2000 and 2009. Dominicans have also formed ethnic enclaves in New York City, dominated the majority of the population in Washington Heights in Manhattan and Southern parts of The Bronx. Spanish Harlem also has a significant Dominican population.
Cuban migration is perhaps the most different from other Caribbean immigration patterns. Unlike both Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, Cubans did not en masse move mostly because of economic reasons. Cuban migration has a substantial factor of “political refugism” to take into account. Furthermore, while New York City is the migrational hub of both the Dominicans and the Puerto Ricans, nearly 80% of Cubans living in the United States live in and around the city of Miami in Florida. The first massive Cuban exodus came on the heels of the 1959 Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro. Many of these Cubans labeled themselves as “political refugees” and therefore were given different legal treatment under American law than Dominican and Puerto Rican migrants simply moving to better their economic lifestyles. The first wave of Cuban refugees saw their stay in the United States as temporary, until the Castro regime would inevitably be overthrown. To this day, it has not been, and the majority of those first wave migrants are now seeing their stay as permanent. Furthermore, unlike their Dominican and Puerto Rican counterparts, Cuban migrants came from all social classes, with a giant swatch of them being largely middle class. Furthermore, many Cuban migrants looked and appeared to be “White” racially, which catalyzed their assimilation into the Miami middle and upper-classes. Those Cubans who appeared more racially African or Mestizo, or of lower economic origins, would be more likely to live in segregated ethnic enclaves such as Little Havana in the Greater Miami area. The second massive wave of migrations came after 1980. It was around this time that Cubans became notorious for their “balseros” (or rafters), groups of refugees who, unable to gain any sort of legitimate way of travel to the United States from the Cuban government, resort to floating over on flimsy rafts. On account of the numerous influx of balseros migrants, the United States issued a “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which chose to divert any rafters found before reaching the shore of Florida, but allowed those who made it to land, to be able to gain access to the mainland as “asylum refugees.” Today, Miami is largely known as “Cuban Miami,” as Cubans form more than a third of the population and are extremely prevalent in the cultural, economic, and political realms of the city. Interestingly, on account of harsher immigration restrictions in Cuba, many Cubans are finding that Puerto Rico is a viable drop-off point for those Cubans trying to reach the States. Today, Puerto Rico is seen as a sort of “stepping stone” for illegals seeking a political safe haven in the States.

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  • Bankston, Carl L, and Danielle Antoinette Hidalgo. Immigration In U.S. History. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2006. Print.
  • Oliver, Eileen. ‘Cuban Immigration And The Cuban‐American Experience.’ Reference Services Review 27.2 (1999): 179-207. Web.