Federal agents busted two men allegedly trying to smuggle 29 migrants into the United States last month.
A federal grand jury this week indicted Carlos Manuel Cruz-Torres and Yoslan Martinez Contreras on 30 counts each of encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the United States. Every count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The men also face one count each of conspiracy to encourage and induce aliens to enter the country. For that, they could go to prison for up to 10 years.
Their initial appearance was Wednesday in Key West before U.S. District Court Judge Lurana Snow.
Never miss a local story.
It's not clear from looking at court documents where Cruz-Torres and Contreras were caught. The indictment only states they were stopped "upon the high seas and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state or district" on Nov 12.
At-sea interdictions of migrants from Cuba have spiked, as many from the socialist island nation fear warming relations between their government and the Obama administration will soon mean the end of their automatic refugee status.
Current U.S. policy states migrants who make it to U.S. shores can stay in the country and apply for permanent residency. Those caught at sea are returned to Cuba. The policy is known as wet foot, dry foot.
The Coast Guard's latest numbers, which are only current to May, show 1,604 migrants were stopped at sea by Coast Guard crews. The stats run in fiscal years, and likely topped out much higher for all of FY 2015, which ended in October. For the entire 2013 fiscal year, 1,357 migrants were interdicted.
Cuban migration is at its highest point since 2008, when 2,216 people were stopped at sea. It has skyrocketed since President Obama announced renewed diplomatic relations with the Castro regime over the summer.
According to the Pew Research Center, 43,154 Cubans entered the United States through all points of entry in fiscal year 2015. That number represents a 78 percent jump from fiscal year 2014.
Many Cubans are entering the states by land by flying to Ecuador and traveling to the U.S./Mexican border.
But the percentage entering by sea through South Florida more than doubled from fiscal year 2014 to 2014 — from 4,709 people to 9,999, according to Pew.