More than 500 Cuban migrants have landed in the Florida Keys since the weekend, part of a growing number of people fleeing the island and testing US border agencies by both land and sea.
It’s a perilous 100-mile (160-kilometer) journey, often in rickety boats, that has killed thousands over the years, but more and more Cubans are taking the risk because of the political and economic crisis in their country.
The Coast Guard attempts to intercept and return Cuban migrants at sea. Since the start of the new fiscal year in the United States, on October 1, there have been approximately 4,200 detentions at sea, that is, about 43 a day. In comparison, they closed 17 per day in the last financial year and only two per day during the 2020-2021 financial year.
But an unknown number have turned up and it is likely they will remain.
“I would love to die to achieve my dream and help my family. The situation in Cuba is not very good,” Jailer del Toro Díaz told El Nuevo Herald shortly after arriving in Key Largo.
The Department of Homeland Security said it would issue a statement on Wednesday, but has not yet done so.
Dry Tortugas National Park, a group of seven islands 110 kilometers west of Key West, remained closed to visitors on Wednesday as the United States expelled Cuban migrants who had landed there in recent days. Typically, about 255 tourists a day arrive by boat and cruise to tour the islands and Fort Jefferson, built 160 years ago. Officials do not know when it will open.
Ramón Raúl Sánchez, of the Cuban-American group Movimiento Democracia, went to the Keys on Wednesday to check on the situation. He told The Associated Press that he met a group of 22 Cubans who had just arrived. They stood by the side of the main road, waiting for American officers to pick them up.
He and Keyes officials said the federal government needed to provide a more coordinated response. A small number of Haitians are also arriving by boat in Florida to escape their country’s economic and political troubles.
“There is a migration and humanitarian crisis, and it is essential for the president to help the local authorities,” Sanchez said.
Cubans are willing to take risks because those who come to US soil almost always manage to stay, even when their legal status is unclear. They also arrive by land, flying into Nicaragua and then traveling north through Honduras and Guatemala to Mexico. In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, 220,000 Cubans were apprehended at the US-Mexico border, almost six times the number from the previous year.
Florida immigration attorney Callen Garcia said most Cubans who arrive on US soil tell Border Patrol agents they cannot find suitable work back home, so they are subject to “swift removal” for entering the country illegally. classified with. But the notion that they will be expelled is misleading.
Since the United States and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations, there is no way for the US government to deport them. The Cubans have been released but ordered to periodically contact federal immigration officials to confirm their addresses and status. They are allowed to obtain work permits, driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers, but cannot apply for permanent residency or US citizenship.
Garcia said it could last for the rest of his life. Some Cubans who arrived in the Mariel exodus in 1980 are still classified as “accelerated evictions”.
Garcia said they are here with a deportation order that cannot be enforced.
A small percentage of Cuban immigrants tell Border Patrol agents they are fleeing political persecution and receive “humanitarian parole,” Garcia said. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, they are released until they can appear before an immigration judge to state their case. If approved, they can obtain permanent residency and later apply for naturalization.
Haitian immigrants, on the other hand, are almost always expelled, despite the fact that political oppression and violence are rife along with severe economic hardship in Haiti.
“This inconsistency is something that immigrant rights advocates have always pointed out,” Garcia said.
Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Associated Press writer Gisela Salomon contributed to this report from Miami.