American Shoal Cubans won't be repatriated, for now. Judge orders another hearing

American Shoal Light
American Shoal Light

A federal judge offered hope to 19 Cubans being held on a U.S. Coast Guard cutter wanting not to be repatriated back to their homeland. 

U.S. District Court Judge Darrin Gayles, at a hearing Friday, scheduled an evidentiary hearing for next Thursday, June 2, at 2 p.m. at the federal courthouse in downtown Miami. The migrants will not be sent back to Cuba in the meantime. 

Lawyers with the nonprofit group Movimiento Democracia filed an injunction earlier this week arguing the Cubans should be able to stay in the United States under the wet-foot, dry-foot policy added to the 1995 Cuban Adjustment Act. 

The migrants swam off their makeshift vessel and climbed onto the American Shoal lighthouse off the Lower Keys on May 20 after being confronted by a U.S. Coast Guard crew. 

They stayed on the 109-foot structure for about eight hours before coming down and being taken aboard an undisclosed cutter. Under wet-foot, dry-foot, Cuban migrants caught at sea before making it to land must be returned to Cuba.

Those who make land can stay and apply for permanent residency after a year. 

The Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney's Office argue the lighthouse, which is about 7 nautical miles at sea south of Sugarloaf Key, does not count as dry land under wet-foot, dry foot.  

William J. Sanchez-Calderon, one of the several attorneys working on behalf of the migrants, praised both Gayles and the Coast Guard following Friday's decision. 

"The Coast Guard has been extremely helpful in this too," he said. 

The Coast Guard intended to hold the migrants on board the cutter until Tuesday, but Darrin's decision means they will be on the ship until at least Thursday. The Coast Guard has not disclosed the cutter's location.