The U.S. Coast Guard, Border Patrol and other agencies charged with stopping illegal migration are increasingly busy in the Florida Keys.
The Coast Guard on Tuesday returned a total of 23 people to Cuba who were caught at sea last week in three different instances, according to an agency press release.
The first group was picked up Wednesday by the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection after a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission patrol boat saw their vessel offshore near Key Largo.
The second interdiction took place Friday about 36 miles offshore of the Middle Keys city of Marathon, according to the Coast Guard. Also on Friday, a tanker ship crew spotted another migrant vessel about 70 miles south of Key West. The crew then called the Coast Guard, which sent a patrol boat to meet the 15-foot chug.
It was not immediately clear how many people were on the latter two migrant vessels.
The federal government tracks migrant activity by the fiscal year — which begins Oct. 1. Migration attempts have spiked this year, according to the Coast Guard. In fiscal year 2020, the agency only stopped 49 people making the dangerous journey across the Florida Straits.
With six months left to go this fiscal year, more than 180 people have been stopped at sea. The uptick seems to have increased after January.
“We have seen an 80% increase in migration activity since January, related to recent years,” Capt. Adam Chamie, commander of Coast Guard Sector Key West, said in a statement. “In most cases, migrants who attempt to illegally enter the United States by boat often travel aboard unseaworthy, make-shift vessels. Most times, these vessels are dangerously overloaded, actively taking on water, and are ill-equipped to safely transport any number of people.”
Experts observing Cuba say the increase in migration attempts stems from deteriorating economic and political conditions within the island nation.