Florida Keys

Cuban migrants continue landing in Keys

A group of Cubans waits on top of American Shoal Lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key in standoff with Coast Guard on May 20. Three more groups of Cuban migrants have landed on Keys shores since last Friday.
A group of Cubans waits on top of American Shoal Lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key in standoff with Coast Guard on May 20. Three more groups of Cuban migrants have landed on Keys shores since last Friday.

Three groups of migrants from Cuba have landed on Keys shores since last Friday.

The arrivals are part of a trend involving Cubans fleeing the communist island nation fearing U.S. policy that allows most of them to stay could soon change.

On June 17, five men and one woman were found on land within Dry Tortugas National Park in what U.S. Customs and Border Patrol describes as a “maritime smuggling event.” The group told Border Patrol agents they left Havana in a “single-engine rustic vessel,” but no boat was found. The migrants were in good health.

On Tuesday, nine adult men landed on Smathers Beach in Key West around 3 p.m. in a single-engine fishing boat, said Marathon Border Patrol Agent in Charge Jeffrey Stalnaker. The migrants said they sailed for four days before reaching the Keys.

Also Tuesday, five men and three women made it to shore in Islamorada around 7 a.m. They said they spent three days at sea in a single-engine fishing boat, Stalnaker said.

Migration from Cuba by land and sea has markedly increased over the past two years, coinciding with the thawing diplomatic relations between the communist Castro regime and the Obama administration.

Current policy allows Cubans who step foot on U.S. soil to stay and apply for permanent residency after a year. If caught at sea, the migrants are taken back to Cuba. That’s known as wet-foot, dry-foot and has been U.S. policy since 1995.

But Cubans fear their instant refugee status could soon end as the two governments become friendlier.

Since Oct. 1, the Coast Guard 7th District estimates that 2,264 Cubans have attempted to illegally migrate via the sea. These numbers represent the total number of at-sea interdictions, landings and disruptions in the Florida Straits, the Caribbean and Atlantic.

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204

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