MONROE COUNTY, Fla. – It has been one year since the July 11 historic protests in Cuba, and the worsening humanitarian and economic crisis is prompting people to leave the island in droves.
While federal agents are stopping most of them at the U.S.-Mexico border, the number of Cuban migrants apprehended at sea has also risen dramatically.
U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Florida Keys were with Local 10 News when a boater reported seeing migrants on a homemade boat near Boot Key off Marathon.
There is no way on or off the island by land.
“I think they think they can get off the island; they can’t,” the 911 caller told a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher.
Agents launched on a personal watercraft to be able to better navigate around the narrow, mangrove-lined channels of Boot Key.
Florida Fish and Wildlife officers near the west side of the island found the rustic vessel, but there was no sign of the migrants.
After agents searched Boot Key in the personal watercraft and a National Guard helicopter circled above, another good Samaritan said the migrants were outside a ramshackle house.
The men from Cuba said they were at sea for seven days, and they had to use paddles to row after the engine stopped working.
“It’s better to die at sea than to live in Cuba,” one man said in Spanish.
Since the beginning of this fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 1,800 migrants in South Florida, a nearly 470% increase from last year. Most of the migrants are Cuban.
Agents in the Keys are also looking for signs of smuggling operations, sometimes taking an extra look at boats being towed southbound on the Overseas Highway.
Some Border Patrol agents are also trained Emergency Medical Technicians.
After an agent assessed the migrants on Boot Key, they were taken to the Border Patrol office in Marathon to be fingerprinted and processed.
”Fortunately we were able to get out there and rescue these migrants,” said Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Adam Hoffner. “They were fortunate just to make it to land here.”
6 p.m. report
JULY 11 ANNIVERSARY