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Sixteen Cubans alight in Marathon but increasingly, southwest is the entry point

The Cuban migrants who arrived Sunday at Sombrero Beach are all smiles as they await to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The Cuban migrants who arrived Sunday at Sombrero Beach are all smiles as they await to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Florida Keys are known as the gateway to America for Cuban migrants but it's the southwest border through Mexico where most Cubans are entering the country.

U.S. immigration officials have said that could be because since Cuba and the U.S. reestablished relations in December after 50 years of separation, Cubans might fear the elimination of wet-foot, dry-foot. That policy allows Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil to stay; the rest are sent back to the island.

In an Oct. 7 report, the nonprofit Pew Research Center says so far this year, 2,927 Cubans were caught at sea and repatriated. The number last year was 2,111.

According to statistics provided by Keith Smith, spokesman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 29,045 Cubans entered the country illegally from October 2014 to July, 7, 125 of them through South Florida but 20,276 through the southwest border.

Final numbers for the 2015 fiscal year are being compiled.

In the last fiscal year (October 2013 to Sept 2014), 4,703 "inadmissible" Cubans arrived in South Florida and 17,459 arrived through the southwest border. The 2013 fiscal year had fewer Cubans entering the country illegally, 1,852 in South Florida and 13,807 from the southwest border.

But South Florida still remains very much an entry point.

Around 8 a.m. Sunday, one woman and 15 men from Cuba arrived at Sombrero Beach in Marathon, according to Border Protection agent Frank Miller. He said they were detained in Marathon and released to relatives or friends the same day. In late September, 23 Cuban migrants landed in Marathon.

Cuba and the U.S. have been working to patch relations since December. Both countries now have embassies in each other's country, and Americans are now allowed much more ease to travel to the island. Travel was severely restricted during the half-century of cold relations.

"The administration's recent announcement regarding Cuba does not mean a change in our current immigration policy," Smith said. "U.S. Customs and Border Protection maintains a robust posture regarding the enforcement of our immigration laws along the nation's borders and coastal areas. Our Coast Guard cutters aggressively patrol the Caribbean and Florida Straits to interdict migrants traveling from Cuba to the United States by water."

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