Local 10 back with U.S. Customs’ AMO branch amid increase in migrant landings

Migrant landings on uninhabited islands in Florida Keys have spiked

Federal agents are busy patrolling the coastline off the Florida Keys as a surge of migrants continues to head to South Florida.

MONROE COUNTY, Fla. – Federal agents are busy patrolling the coastline off the Florida Keys as a surge of migrants continues to head to South Florida.

Agents with Air and Marine Operations (AMO), a specialized law enforcement branch of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, gave Local 10 News a firsthand view of the work they do last fall. Recently, Local 10 embedded with agents once again to see the uptick in migrant landings and interdictions at sea.

AMO patrols the waters 12 nautical miles from the shore, including west of the Marquesas Keys. Recently, there has been a spike in migrant landings in the Marquesas, Dry Tortugas, and other uninhabited islands. Agents say those islands are typically in the direct path for Cubans from Havana attempting to come to Florida. There is also less manpower in those areas to stop migrants at sea.

“We’ve seen a further trend, pushing further west,” said Sam, an AMO agent who declined to provide his last name for security reasons. “They’re typically a little more medically deteriorated with being dehydrated.”

In one day, Sam and his team helped rescue nearly 50 migrants from Cuba who made the dangerous sea voyage through the Florida Straits.

One group intercepted at sea was in a barely-seaworthy homemade metal boat off the Marquesas Keys. A woman briefly passed out and was treated onboard the AMO vessel by a Coast Guard EMT as well as an AMO agent.

Another group was stranded on the uninhabited island of Boca Grande.

After being searched and helped onto AMO’s vessel, they were taken to the Coast Guard Station in Key West before being transported by U.S. Border Patrol for processing.

CBP numbers show since October 1st, the start of this Fiscal Year, border agents in South Florida have encountered more than 1,400 migrants, a 734 percent increase over the same time period last year.

Extra agents from different parts of the U.S. are being detailed to the Florida Keys to help with the surge.

“We’re asking for more bodies; more people to help. More hands. Obviously, due to the increase in migrant landings, just the wave itself that is coming overseas,” Sam said. “It’s a 24-hour operation.”

About the Author:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.