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Cubans Stranded In Costa Rica Start Arriving In South Florida

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) --  The first group of Cubans- who were stranded in Costa Rica- arrived in Hialeah Gardens late Sunday night.

According to our news partners at El Nuevo Herald, the group was part of the estimated 8,000 Cuban migrants stuck in the region- many of which are still waiting for their turn to get into the United States.

Their journey involved a plane ride from Costa Rica to El Salvador, then a journey in buses that crossed Guatemala, Mexico and finally into the U.S.

The 42 people on board the buses, little by little, began staying in different parts of the country.

Liena Cabeza, 32, was one of the group who made it to Miami.

"I am very happy and emotional to have arrived in Miami and to see my parents again, " she said in Spanish.  "My dream now is to work very hard to try to bring my little sister to the U.S."

Related: Dade Prepped To Receive Cubans Stranded In Central America

Cabeza along with her boyfriend traveled to Ecuador back in October with the goal of crossing the continent to make their way into the U.S.

She is one of the thousands of Cubans who tried to do this but got stuck in Costa Rica when Nicaragua would not let them pass through their borders - citing security concerns.

The incident, called a "humanitarian drama" by Pope Francis, prompted a plan by the Central American countries  to airlift 180 Cubans last Tuesday from Costa Rica to El Salvador. From therethey were able to cross Guatemala and Mexico by bus before making their way into the U.S.

Authorities estimate they need about 28 more flights to get out the rest of the Cubans stranded in Costa Rica including reportedly a large amount of children.

The mass migration comes as many Cuban migrants fear renewed relations between Cuba and the United States could bring an end to the Wet Foot Dry Foot Policy. This allows Cubans to apply for residency if they reach the U.S. by land.

It's part of the law, called the Cuban Adjustment Act, that was passed in the 1960s when the first wave of Cuban refugees fled a communist takeover.

The law has stayed on the books for six decades, and hasn't gotten much opposition from South Florida political leaders until recently.

Two weeks ago Senator Marco Rubio, who is talking tough on immigration as he campaigns for president, told CBS4's Jim DeFede he wants changes to the act.

"Not only does it need to be reexamined but the benefits need to be reexamined. We see the abuses. People are coming here collecting benefits. The system is being taken advantage of and it needs to be addressed," said Rubio.

Changing the Cuban Adjustment Act was not on the minds of the families who were simply happy to be reunited with their loved ones on Sunday after long separations.

Rubio filed a bill last week that would require Cuban immigrants to prove they were persecuted in Cuba before they can qualify for federal benefits. A similar bill has been filed in the house by Miami Congressman Carlos Curbelo, who is also up for re-election.

Click here to read more about U.S.- Cuba Relations.

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