Federal judge says he needs time to decide whether Keys lighthouse Cubans can stay in US

US officials: American Shoal Light does not qualify as American territory

MIAMI – Attorneys for a group of Cuban migrants want a federal judge to allow them to remain in the U.S. after they climbed onto a lighthouse offshore from the Florida Keys but never reached dry land.

During a hearing about the matter Thursday, Judge Darrin Gayles said he needed two to three weeks to make a decision about whether the 21 Cubans can stay in the U.S. or must be returned to Cuba.

"We're very grateful for the court to giving the kind of consideration this case needs," attorney Kendall Coffey, who is representing the migrants, said. "It's a very important case. This judge is giving it the full consideration it needs."

The migrants have remained on a U.S. Coast Guard cutter since May 20, when they climbed the American Shoal Light off Sugarloaf Key.

"When Judge Gayles advised this was important, not just for our clients but potentially for others, and that he wanted an appropriate amount of time to make the right decision, that's what we expect a good judge like Judge Gayles to do," Ben Kuehne, another attorney representing the migrants, said.

U.S. officials said the lighthouse does not qualify as American territory under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy.

Under that policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are usually allowed to stay, while those intercepted at sea are generally returned to the communist island nation.

Gayles said in court last week that he didn't want to rush to a decision about the fate of the Cuban migrants and wanted to research the 136-year-old lighthouse.

The migrants' lawyers claim the lighthouse is U.S. territory despite being about seven miles from land.

Gayles said the migrants should remain on the cutter or elsewhere in U.S. custody until a decision is made.

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