Agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations are looking into a third case of migrant smuggling in which a boat was stopped Sunday by authorities off the coast of Tavernier in the Upper Keys.
Dozens of migrants on Sunday also were caught off Key Largo and at Black Point Marina in South Miami-Dade.
The vessel in Tavernier was carrying an unknown number of migrants whose nationalities have not been released by Homeland Security.
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“All three cases are being investigated by special agents with Homeland Security Investigations,” said Nestor Yglesias, a spokesman for the agency.
Early Sunday morning, agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations stopped a 40-foot speed boat about 500 yards off Ocean Reef Club, a gated community in north Key Largo. The boat was carrying 31 Cuban migrants and two smugglers, Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Adam Hoffner said.
The smugglers and four other people with the group were arrested. Twenty-seven of the migrants were turned over to the U.S. Coast Guard and are being sent back to Cuba.
This was the first large-scale migrant event since the former Obama administration ended the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that allowed almost all Cubans who stepped foot on United States soil to stay. Those caught at sea under the Cold War-era policy, however, were returned to Cuba.
Wet-foot, dry-foot was viewed by Obama as an anachronism in the wake of his administration’s reestablishing diplomatic relations with the Castro regime in 2015. Migration from Cuba spiked in the final two years of Obama’s last term because Cubans anticipated he would end the policy. But it all but came to a stop since January.
Capt. Jeffrey Janszen, commander of Coast Guard Sector Key West, said his men and women stopped around the same amount of migrants in the past month sailing across the Florida Straits as they would in one day prior to the repeal of wet-foot, dry-foot.
“For the past month we only interdicted 25 migrants,” Janszen said Monday. “Prior to the policy change, we would sometimes interdict 25 or more Cuban migrants in just one day.”
It’s unclear if Sunday marked the end to that lull, but Customs, Border Patrol and Coast Guard authorities operating in South Florida were far busier than they have been in past two months.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” Yglesias said.
As of Monday, “information is still being gathered” about the more than five migrants caught at Black Point Marina, located in South Dade, not far from Key Largo. Homeland Security has not released their country of origin.