After 11 failed attempts at immigrating to the U.S and an 18-hour sea ride on a makeshift raft with 20 other people, cubano Silvio Hernandez was ecstatic when he saw the Florida coast – a moment he captured on his smartphone.
In the video, Hernandez, 29, is seen with his father and other Cuban refugees of all ages smiling and cheering “llegamos” (“we made it.”) One passenger, donning sunglasses with the U.S. flag printed on them, threw up a peace sign. Another man was captured kneeling on the Florida sand, likely crying or praying.
The group’s joy didn’t just stem from making it safely to their destination – though, with innumerous stories of fatal trips from Cuba to Florida, that is surely one reason to weep. They were also elated because they understood that with their bodies on U.S. soil, they were one step closer to citizenship in this new land.
Since the 1990s, Cuban immigrants have benefited from a policy informally known as "wet feet, dry feet," which allows anyone fleeing the Caribbean country to the U.S. who has at least one foot on U.S. soil to pursue residency a year later.
The immigration policy, increasingly controversial as growing numbers of Mexican and Central American immigrants fleeing violence and poverty are being deported, may be nearing its end, however. With Cuba and the U.S. improving relations, analysts suspect a suspension of the policy, propelling cubanos like Hernandez to embark on the long, costly and dangerous journey north sooner rather than later.
"That’s why we were hurried," Hernandez told the Miami New Times. "They say to go now because the law might change."
Watch the emotional video above, and don’t forget the tissues.