Cubans reunite with loved ones outside US Border Protection station in Broward, others search in anguish

Ongoing Cuban exodus is separating families once again

DANIA BEACH, Fla. – The hugs started early Thursday morning outside of The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s station in Dania Beach after migrants survived the treacherous sea in makeshift vessels and endured a few days in detention. It was all part of their gargantuan effort to get away from the misery in Cuba.

Dr. Omar Tejas, 29, a Cuban physician, said he left Ciego de Avila with about 30 others. It took them six days of hunger and lack of sleep to arrive at Islamorada. He had a cell phone that he used to record videos until his battery died. His cousin Noelvis Tejas said she didn’t hear from him for three days.

She herself a new arrival waited for Dr. Tejas with a bouquet of mylar balloons including star-shaped U.S. flags and a round one that read, “Welcome.” The Tejas hugged. He was only wearing socks and told her he had lost his shoes, but he was overjoyed and relieved.

“We didn’t know if our family would be waiting for us,” Dr. Tejas said. “We didn’t know if we would get deported.”

The increase in maritime migration has been challenging the Dania Beach station, which oversees Miami-Dade, Broward, Collier, and Lee counties, and the Marathon station, which oversees Monroe County. The migration is also testing local authorities, as Sheriff Rick Ramsay recently warned there was a crisis in Monroe.

Tejas’s cousin Rafael Perez said in Spanish that the situation in Cuba has gone “from bad to worse” and there is no “remedy” in sight. He said the only way to put a stop to the Cuban desperation that is driving them to risk their lives at sea is for the Communist regime to step down.

The ongoing exodus is separating Cuban families once again. A tearful Alejandro Armas said his release from detention at Dania Beach was bittersweet. He was reunited with his wife, Mayrin Armas, who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border about four months ago. They both have loved ones on the island.

“The sad thing is to leave the family,” Beltran said.

Not everyone got the reunion they had hoped for. Edenia Gonzalez was among the anguished who waited outside of the Dania Beach station for news of their loved ones. She was searching for her 27-year-old daughter Kirenia Gonzalez and her 11-year-old granddaughter Brianna Rodriguez, who left Cuba on Dec. 31 in a boat.

“I am scared that something happened to her,” the grandmother said through tears.

In Key West, Lazaro Rivero stood on his truck to try to get a peek at the migrants at the Marathon station. The Coast Guard transported over 330 migrants from The Dry Tortugas National Park in the Gulf of Mexico to Key West on Thursday for processing at the Marathon station. Rivero was in search of two of his cousins from Pinar Del Rio.

And while this unfolded, President Joe Biden announced from the White House that U.S. authorities will be turning away unvetted asylum seekers from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Haiti, and encourage participation in a CBP program to allow 30,000 monthly into the U.S. with prior approval.

Biden had a request 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.”

The US embassy in Havana recently restored consular services. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson urged Florida’s diaspora “to discourage family members in Cuba or Haiti from attempting the dangerous and very often deadly voyage across the Florida Straits.”

Some of the Cubans who walked out free Thursday in Dania Beach were hopeful after what they described as humane detention. To chase their American dream, they received instructions to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services.


There has been 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.

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Local 10 News Reporter Janine Stanwood contributed to this report from Key West. Torres contributed to this report from Miami.

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

Saira Anwer joined the Local 10 News team in July 2018. Saira is two-time Emmy-nominated reporter and comes to South Florida from Madison, Wisconsin, where she was working as a reporter and anchor.