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Cuban migrants continue landing in Keys

A group of men from Cuba celebrate their recent arrival to Key West on June 21 after sailing for four days on a single-engine fishing boat across the Florida Straits.
A group of men from Cuba celebrate their recent arrival to Key West on June 21 after sailing for four days on a single-engine fishing boat across the Florida Straits.

Three groups of migrants from Cuba landed on Keys shores since last Friday.

The refugees’ arrivals are part of a trend involving Cubans fleeing the communist island nation fearing U.S. policy that allows most of them to stay could soon change.

On June 17, five men and one woman were found on land within Dry Tortugas National Park in what U.S. Customs and Border Patrol describes as a “maritime smuggling event.” The group told Border Patrol agents they left Havana in a “single-engine rustic vessel,” but no boat was found. The migrants were in good health.

On Tuesday, nine adult men landed on Smathers Beach in Key West around 3 p.m. in a single-engine fishing boat, said Marathon Border Patrol Agent in Charge Jeffrey Stalnaker. The migrants said they sailed for four days before reaching the Keys.

Also Tuesday, five men and three women made it to shore in Islamorada around 7 a.m. They said they spent three days at sea in a single-engine fishing boat, Stalnaker said.

Migration from Cuba by land and sea has markedly increased over the past two years, coinciding with the thawing diplomatic relations between the communist Castro regime and the Obama administration.

Current policy allows Cubans who step foot on U.S. soil to stay and apply for permanent residency after a year. If caught at sea, the migrants are taken back to Cuba. That’s known as wet-foot, dry-foot and has been U.S. policy since 1995.

But Cubans fear their instant refugee status could soon end as the two governments become friendlier.

Since Oct. 1, the Coast Guard 7th District estimates at least 4,406 Cubans have attempted to migrate to the U.S. by sea, compared to 4,473 in fiscal year 2015. These statistics represent the total number of at-sea interdictions and landings.

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204

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