Florida Straits now seeing most migrant activity in over four years, Coast Guard says

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As of Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard has stopped more people from Cuba trying to migrate across the Florida Straits since the Obama administration ended the so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy in early 2017.

In the months prior to the end of the Cold War-era policy that allowed Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil above the high water mark to remain in the country, maritime migration spiked because of thawing diplomatic relations between Washington and the Castro regime.

The federal government tracks migration by fiscal year, starting Oct. 1. In Fiscal year 2016, the Coast Guard stopped 5,396 Cuban migrants. In the beginning of fiscal year 2017, several boats a week were being stopped or had landed in South Florida full of people anticipating the end of “wet-foot, dry foot” — with a total of 1,468 people caught at sea.

In the proceeding years, migration across the Straits — a treacherous journey, especially in the many unseaworthy vessels Cubans use to reach South Florida — dropped significantly.

Last fiscal year, for example, the Coast Guard only stopped 49 people.

However, with five months still left in fiscal year 2021, that number has spiked to 465 people, according to the Coast Guard.

Additionally, several attempts have ended in tragedy, including one in late May in which two people were found dead and 10 remain missing out of a party of 20.

Experts on the island nation say the reason people are willing to risk their lives to make the trek despite knowing they’ll be returned if caught is because of deteriorating economic conditions and a crackdown on dissidents within the Communist country.

A wooden green boat floats in shallow water near Sombrero Beach in the Middle Florida Keys city of Marathon on Sunday, June 13, 2021. Four people from Cuba arrived in the Keys on the vessel earlier that day.
A wooden green boat floats in shallow water near Sombrero Beach in the Middle Florida Keys city of Marathon on Sunday, June 13, 2021. Four people from Cuba arrived in the Keys on the vessel earlier that day.

The Coast Guard Tuesday issued a press release stating it returned 59 people to Cuba, caught in separate incidents at sea near the Florida Keys since last Wednesday. The week before, the Coast Guard said it repatriated 82 people the week before.

Of the latest at-sea incidents, according to the press release:

  • The Coast Guard picked up 16 people 27 miles south of Long Key last Wednesday. Also that same day, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations patrol boat stopped four people on a small boat about 20 miles east of Key Largo.

  • On Thursday, the Coast Guard stopped 29 people on a vessel spotted about 40 miles north of Havana, Cuba. One person in that group was taken to the hospital and has not yet been returned to Cuba, according to the Coast Guard.

  • And, on Saturday, a Coast Guard crew picked up 11 migrants found about 10 miles east of Elliot Key.

On Sunday, a small wooden boat carrying three men and a woman also landed near Sombrero Beach in the Middle Keys city of Marathon, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.

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