Three Cuban rafters reached U.S. soil Tuesday near Key Biscayne, but two left the scene before immigration authorities arrived and seized one of the migrants, people familiar with the case said.
A Customs and Border Protection official said the sole rafter that Border Patrol agents took into custody at Virginia Key was in good condition. The official said the Cuban told authorities that shortly after landing his two companions had left the area.
The whereabouts of the other two migrants were not known. While there was an initial search for the two unaccounted for migrants, later U.S. officials said Cuban rafters who have family in South Florida sometimes do not wait for authorities to detain them. They leave the scene of a landing, make their way to relatives’ homes and subsequently report themselves to the Border Patrol.
Cuban migrants who reach U.S. land generally do not hide from authorities because the law allows them to stay and apply for a green card after more than a year in the country.
Under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, Cuban migrants intercepted at sea are generally sent back to Cuba, but those who make it to U.S. soil are allowed to stay.
People familiar with Tuesday’s case, including the CBP officials and witnesses who interviewed by Miami police, said the episode unfolded this way:
The three migrants were aboard a flimsy homemade boat that broke down and was adrift off Key Biscayne.
A local fisherman sighted them Tuesday morning, rescued them and then brought them to shore on the eastern side of Virginia Key.
Virginia Key is an island connected to Key Biscayne via the Rickenbacker Causeway and the Bear Cut bridge.
When Miami police and the Border Patrol responded, the encountered one Cuban migrant ashore. He told them that his two companions had left after arriving ashore. Authorities took him to a white utility or tool shed on the north entrance to Virginia Key Beach Park to await Border Patrol transportation,
Photographers at the scene took pictures of the migrant while he appeared to be praying or thanking heaven for making it ashore alive.
When he walked out of the shed, he was accompanied by a Border Patrol officer whose name tag said Roberts. Later he told a photographer that his first name is Andre.
“He is about 65 or so and he seems like a great old man,” Roberts was heard saying to journalists as he escorted the migrant to a vehicle.
The migrant, responding to journalists’ questions, said that his last name is Pacheco and that he is from Pinar del Río in western Cuba. He was dressed in a striped polo shirt, cargo pants rolled up above the ankles, and white tennis shoes.
CBS4, meanwhile, quoted Roberts as saying that the Cuban migrant likely will be allowed to stay.
“I’m pretty sure he is [going to stay] unless he has some major criminal history,” CBS4 quoted Roberts as saying. “But I think he seems like a great old man and I don’t think there is any problem.”