U.S. Coast Guard crews have intercepted more than 6,000 Cubans since last October, the agency said, the most in one exercise since the 1990s.
“We’ve seen this before. It’s a natural occurrence. However, seeing the rise for us is really concerning and the fact that we’re seeing more individuals on not-so-seaworthy vessels, putting a significant number of these individuals at very dangerous risk of death,” said Walter Slosar, chief patrol officer for the Miami sector.
For years, Cubans have fled the island, but recent unrest, persecution and commodity shortages have pushed more to leave.
“Individuals have come to us with stories of persecution from the local government for their inability to participate in certain events, for not agreeing with local and communist politics on the island. them but also many stories of family members, friends who have been apprehended, detained for minor non-criminal offenses,” said David Claros, director of immigration legal services for the Southeast Church region. World Service, adding that it was hiring additional staff to meet demand.
Patrols here are complicated by the diversity of terrain, requiring coordination between land, air and sea agencies. CNN recently integrated the air and sea operations of US Customs and Border Protection, US Border Patrol and Coast Guard.
Agencies will work together to identify and interdict migrants so they can be repatriated. If they land, however, they are taken into Border Patrol custody.
As the Coast Guard tries to intercept migrants before they make it to the US coast, thousands have come ashore. So far this fiscal year, border officials have arrested nearly 3,600 people in the Miami area, which covers more than 1,200 miles of the Florida coast, up from just over 1,000 last year.
Authorities encounter a wide range of vessels at sea and ashore, ranging from surfboards tied together to boats with limited supplies and no navigation system on what is often a multi-day voyage. Barely an hour into a Coast Guard patrol, crew members spotted a makeshift vessel at sea with about eight people.
And it’s not just Cubans. Authorities are also grappling with a growing number of Haitian migrants traveling by sea. The Coast Guard has responded to incidents of large sailing cargo ships carrying dozens, if not hundreds, of Haitian migrants, putting those on board at great risk.
“Conditions on board were horrendous,” said Mark Lamphere, a Coast Guard maritime interdiction officer, recalling a vessel that arrived on the Florida coast this year.
“There were reports of injuries in the hull so I had to jump in there and there were only obvious standing places,” he said. Two hundred of them piled in there and they were defecating and urinating where they were standing.”
Slosar recognized the demand for resources to deal with new trends.
“We’re all working with limited resources, and when we meet these people, you don’t know who’s on that boat. Our mission is to figure out who’s coming into the country. It takes time for our officers to bring them into our custody. , make sure they’re healthy and they’re clean and they’re fed and they’re safe, and then identify exactly who they are,” he said.