Buses take hundreds of Cubans to Border Patrol stations after Coast Guard’s transport from Dry Tortugas to Key West

KEY WEST, Fla. – Lazaro Rivero stood on his truck to try to get a peek at the hundreds of Cuban migrants arriving Thursday at the U.S. Coast Guard Key West from the Dry Tortugas National Park.

Rivero said he was searching for three of his cousins who after their dangerous voyage from Pinar Del Rio were stranded at the national park in the Gulf of Mexico for four days.

The Coast Guard picked up over 330 migrants at the park’s Fort Jefferson on Wednesday and transported them to Key West on Thursday. Seven chartered buses waited to take them to U.S. Border Patrol stations.

Amid the misery in Cuba, Rivero’s hope for his cousins: “That they allow them to stay.”

U.S. Homeland Security coordinated the effort with federal, state, and local authorities, as President Joe Biden announced unvetted refugees and asylum seekers from four countries — Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti — will be turned away.

Biden said a new “safe and humane” process will allow 360,000 from the four countries to stay in the U.S. annually — at 30,000 monthly for the next two years — if they have a qualified sponsor and if they pass a background check.

Biden also had a message for migrants who want to get to the U.S.: “Do not just show up at the border. Stay where you are and apply legally from there.”

There was a sharp increase in U.S. Border Patrol nationwide encounters in the U.S. with migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela during the last two years, according to federal data. U.S.-Mexico border states California and Texas have recorded more encounters than Florida.

  • After there were 14,015 nationwide encounters with Cuban migrants in the fiscal year 2020, these increased to 39,303 in 2021, and 224,607 in 2022. Already this fiscal year, in October and November, there were 65,731, including 2,014 in Florida, 4,712 in California, 19,438 in Arizona, and 39,342 in Texas.
  • After there were 5,291 nationwide encounters with Haitian migrants in the fiscal year 2020, these increased to 48,727 in 2021, and 56,596 in 2022. Already this fiscal year, in October and November, there were 12,591, including 71 in Florida, 1,666 in California, and 10,461 in Texas.
  • After there were 3,164 nationwide encounters with Nicaraguan migrants in the fiscal year 2020, these increased to 50,722 in 2021, and 164,600 in 2022. Already this year, there were 55,279, including 37 in Florida, 2,435 in California, 3,830 in Arizona, and 48,880 in Texas.
  • After there were 4,520 nationwide encounters with Venezuelan migrants in the fiscal year 2020, these increased to 50,499 in 2021, and 189,520 in 2022. Already this year, there were 36,237, including 398 in California, 1,477 in Arizona, 4,218 in Florida, and 28,872 in Texas.

There was a recent 64% decrease in Venezuelans at the U.S.-Mexico border where U.S. authorities recorded 22,045 encounters in October and 7,931 in November. Mexico has been accepting Venezuelan migrants since Oct. 12 and agreed to help the U.S. to execute the new vetting process.

“The actions we’re announcing will make things better, but will not fix the border problem completely,” Biden said while also asking Congress to help pass legislation to fix the “broken” immigration system.

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Local 10 News Assignment Desk Editor Wilson Louis contributed to this report from Pembroke Park. Torres contributed to this report from Miami.

About the Authors:

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.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.