Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Sunday, July 7, 2013
28 Cubans make it ashore at Southernmost Point Friday

For most visitors of the Southernmost Point, a stone's throw from Mile Marker 0, it is daylight hours when they stand beside the colorful bouy landmark smiling for a photo.

At 3 a.m. Friday, 28 Cubans made a landing, but it was a far cry from the usual hustle and bustle of tourist season. Another three made it ashore in Marathon on Thursday around 9:20 a.m.

Instead, this group came ashore in the dark with little else but the clothes on their backs.

Once U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities were notified, the refugees were well on their way to freedom. They will be processed, given medical treatment if needed and taken to a center near Miami. It usually takes up to a month to get the necessary paperwork before they are released.

The U.S. has the "wet-foot, dry-foot policy" that puts Cubans who reach U.S. soil on a fast track to permanent residency. The government initiated the policy in 1995 as an amendment to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act passed by Congress when Cold War tensions ran high between the U.S. and the island nation.

A Key West police officer was also on site Friday morning and handed out a bunch of American flags he had collected following the fireworks display at Higgs Beach earlier in the evening. The immigrants got their picture taken near the famous statue.

But not all refugees are lucky enough to make it to land. Many more are intercepted in the waters outside of the U.S. and are returned to their native homeland when the U.S. Coast Guard comes upon their vessels.

"Primarily, the Coast Guard maintains its humanitarian responsibility to prevent the loss of life at sea, since the majority of migrant vessels are dangerously overloaded, unseaworthy or otherwise unsafe," a press release from the Coast Guard states.

In 1981, 120,000 migrants from 23 countries were interdicted by the Coast Guard. Between 1991 and 1995, there was a dramatic increase in attempts from Haitians following a coup. In 1994, it rescued some 63,000 Haitians, with 17 U.S. boats patrolling around the world's poorest country.

Statistics released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/United States Coast Guard in the first six months of 2013, show that 705 Cubans have been apprehended at sea or attempting to land on U.S. soil and were sent back to their county. During the same time period, 385 Haitians, 60 Dominicans, 17 Mexicans, 1 Ecuadorian and 5 Chinese refugees were intercepted.

The numbers seem high, but are not near the totals in 2007 when it reached 9,455, of which 2,868 were from Cuba. However, this year's statistics have already surpassed 2010 when only 422 Cubans were caught.

sfrederick@keysnews.com

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