More migrants land in the Keys, this time in Islamorada and Ballast Key

A group of 14 Cuban migrants came ashore in Islamorada and 13 landed on Ballast Key off Key West Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.

The Upper Keys group landed near the Morada Bay Resort, on the bay side of U.S. 1 at mile marker 81.6, around 8 a.m. A “concerned citizen” noticed the 14 men and called the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, said Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Adam Hoffner.

The men told Border Patrol agents that they traveled for four to five days on a “homemade rustic vessel.” The boat’s engine failed at sea, leaving the men stranded in the open ocean while they made repairs.

“Homemade vessels such as this, often suffer from engine of other types of mechanical failures putting the migrants at risk,” Hoffner said in an e-mail. “The vessels also lack appropriate safety equipment and navigational devices.”

Hoffner said his agency regularly receives both confirmed and unconfirmed reports of migrants drowning at sea on their way to the United States.

Under the 1995 changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act, migrants from Cuba who set foot on dry land in the United States can stay here and apply for permanent residency after a year. The policy is known as wet-foot, dry-foot.

The Lower Keys group — all men — landed on Ballast Key, part of a group of small islands west of Key West known as the “Mule Keys.” They were reportedly in good health. They said they were at sea in a single-engine fishing boat for two days.

It has been a busy year for the Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies responsible for keeping an eye out for migrants and human smugglers. Migrant arrivals and interdictions are up sharply in the wake of thawing relations between the United States and the Castro regime. Many Cubans fear the wet-foot, dry-foot policy will soon be repealed, and they want to leave the island before that happens.

On Friday, a group of 21 migrants climbed onto the American Shoal lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key after being confronted by a Coast Guard boat that morning. They eventually came down off the 109-foot structure later in the afternoon and were taken aboard an undisclosed Coast Guard cutter to be sent back to Cuba.

However, an injunction was filed in U.S. District Court Tuesday by the non-profit group Movimiento Democracia on behalf of some of the migrants’ families living in Florida arguing the Cubans made it to the United States under wet-foot, dry-foot.  

Also last Friday, nine Cubans arrived in a “single-engine rustic boat” at the Dry Tortugas National Park about 70 miles from Key West. The eight adult men and one woman arrived about 7:30 p.m., Hoffner said.

They told Border Patrol agents they spent two days at sea.