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Cubans build contingency plans in case U.S. changes immigration policy

More than 370,000 Cubans have left for the U.S. over the past decade
Concerns grow as U.S.-Cuba relationship normalizes 02:21

HAVANA -- Historic talks between the United States and Cuba got off to a rough start Wednesday, when the U.S. refused to change the policy that gives Cuban refugees who reach the U.S. automatic legal residency.

Some Cubans worry that if the rules change, they'll get stuck where they are.

Inside their tiny living room, Nancy and Alexi showed CBS News their big secret: A boat they are building to flee Cuba. They've been working on it for two months.

This family is building a secret boat in their living room and plan to make their third attempt to flee Cuba before a possible change in U.S. immigration policy. CBS News

Nancy told us work is slow. Parts are bought on the black market, and some of the wood comes from a coffin maker. When it's complete, Nancy, her husband and four children will attempt to cross more than 90 miles to the U.S. -- and a new future.

Nancy says her family has been marked ever since she joined a dissident group in 2008.

"What do we do?" she says. "How do I support my children? My daughter can't work, my son can't work because this country doesn't have jobs for them."

Latest on loosening Cuba restrictions 03:22

Like many others, they are also driven by fear that the favored status for Cuban refugees -- which lets anyone stay who reaches U.S. shores -- may disappear as the two nations re-establish relations.

More than 370,000 Cubans have left for the U.S. over the past decade. Last month, the U.S. Coast Guard captured or turned away 481 Cubans, nearly twice as many as the year before.

Both nations have worked to ensure legal migration, with the U.S. issuing at least 20,000 visas to Cubans per year. But Nancy says her family was denied one.

This will be their third attempt to escape by boat, and she says they'll keep trying.

That's why at Wednesday's migration talks, the Cuban government once again blamed U.S. policy for encouraging people to leave the island illegally. But a U.S. official in Havana said Washington remains committed to its current approach.

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