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An increasing number of Cubans try to reach Florida by sea, Coast Guard reports

An increasing number of Cubans try to reach Florida by sea, Coast Guard
01/05/2015 6:28 PM 01/05/2015 7:16 PM

The number of Cuban migrants attempting to reach the U.S. illegally in
rafts has surged since the Dec. 17 announcement that diplomatic
relations between the two countries would be restored after more than 50
years, Coast Guard officials said Monday.

The Coast Guard also has increased patrols in the Florida Straits and is
continuing to patrol the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. authorities have intercepted 421 Cubans since Dec. 17, mostly in
the Florida Straits, said Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma, a spokesman for the
Coast Guard’s 7th District in Miami.

On Monday, the Coast Guard repatriated 121 Cuban migrants who were
interdicted in seven separate events in the past week.

All seven interdictions included unseaworthy, homemade vessels that
posed significant risk to the migrants attempting to make the perilous
journey, officials said.

In all of December 2013, the total number of Cuban migrants who
encountered U.S. law enforcement while trying to reach the U.S. was
nearly half that — 222.

And just before the historic announcement of restored diplomatic ties —
from Dec. 1 to Dec. 16 — 132 Cubans were prevented from reaching U.S.

Some Cubans on the island recently told The Associated Press that they
were thinking about speeding up their plans to get to the U.S., but
others cautioned against attempting the dangerous crossing when it’s
still unclear how U.S. law may change.

“I’m dying to leave, but I’m not going to throw myself into the sea, I’m
not going to do it,” Juan Moreno, 34, said in Havana on Monday. “He who
does that is crazy.”

The Coast Guard said the spike in the number of Cuban migrants has been
prompted by rumors that an abrupt end is coming as soon as Jan. 15 to
the so-called wet foot-dry foot policy that usually shields Cubans from
deportation if they reach U.S. shores.

But U.S. officials say there are no immediate plans to change the
policy. Congress would have to change the Cuban Adjustment Act or the
U.S. trade .

“There is no change to immigration law. This rumor is just putting
people in harm’s way. The rumors are just not true,” Somma said.

Rear Adm. Jake Korn, Coast Guard 7th District commander said in a
statement released Monday: “The Administration’s recent announcement
regarding Cuba does not affect immigration policies including wet
foot/dry foot or the Cuban Adjustment Act – which only Congress can change.”

The overall number of migrants making risky sea voyages toward U.S.
shores from the Caribbean, including Cuba and other countries, has
increased in the past year. According to the Coast Guard, in the fiscal
year that ended Sept. 30, U.S. authorities captured, intercepted or
chased away at least 5,585 Haitians, 3,940 Cubans and hundreds from the
Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries attempting to reach
U.S. shores.

For nearly 50 years, Cubans have had a unique privilege. The Cuban
Adjustment Act has given them a virtually guaranteed path to legal
residency and eventual citizenship. Over the years, hundreds of
thousands of Cubans have taken perilous raft trips to Florida and land
journeys through Central America and Mexico with the knowledge that they
would not be .

Cubans intercepted at sea, though, usually are returned home.

Coast Guard officials said they’re concerned about the increased numbers
of migrants.

“At one point last week, we had about 120 Cuban migrants on Coast Guard
cutter decks awaiting repatriation,” Somma said.

Some Coast Guard vessels and aircraft have been pulled from other
missions in the region to address the increased migrant traffic in the
waters off Florida, Somma said.

Poverty and political repression have long caused Cubans and other
Caribbean nationals to attempt the journey across the swift currents of
the Florida Straits. A recovering U.S. and another calm summer
without many tropical storms may have contributed to the increased flow
of migrants documented since the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1,
2013, authorities said.

But now that the U.S. and Cuba are negotiating a return to full
diplomatic relations, many Cubans wonder how long wet foot-dry foot will

Moreno and others in Cuba said that they expected the changes announced
last month to take time, and that the Cuban Adjustment Act would
eventually go away, whether or not circumstances on the island improved.

“The truth is that someday it will be removed, but it’s unknown when,”
Moreno said.

Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia contributed to this report
from Havana. Miami Herald intern Rebecca Savransky contributed from Miami.

Source: An increasing number of Cubans try to reach Florida by sea,
Coast Guard reports | The Miami Herald –

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