An alarming trend is emerging in South Florida, where officials are seeing an increasing number of migrants, especially Haitians and Cubans, traveling to US shores on makeshift boats.
US Coast Guard crews have intercepted more than 6,000 Cubans since last October, according to the agency, the most in a fiscal year since the 1990s.
“We’ve seen this before. It’s a natural phenomenon. However, seeing the rise for us is really worrying and the fact that we’re seeing more individuals on not-so-seaworthy ships, making a significant number of those individuals a very dangerous put at risk for loss of life,” said Walter Slosar, chief patrol agent of the Miami Sector.
For years, Cubans have fled the island, but recent unrest, persecution and shortages of basic goods have pushed more to leave.
“Individuals have come to us with stories of persecution from the local government for their inability to participate in certain events because they do not agree with local and communist policies of the island. It is not only them, but also many stories of family members, friends who have been arrested, detained for minor, non-criminal offenses,” said David Claros, director of Immigration Legal Services Southeast Region at Church World Service, adding that he is hiring additional staff. meet the demand.
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Patrols here are complicated by the varying terrain, which requires coordination between agencies on land, air and sea. CNN recently embedded with US Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations, the US Border Patrol, and Coast Guard.
The agencies will work together to identify and interdict migrants so that they can be repatriated. However, if they land, they are arrested in Border Patrol.
As the Coast Guard tries to intercept migrants before they reach US shores, thousands have made it to shore. So far this fiscal year, border authorities have arrested nearly 3,600 in the Miami sector, which covers more than 1,200 miles of the Florida coast, compared to just over 1,000 last year.
Authorities encounter a wide range of vessels at sea and on shore, ranging from surfboards tied together and boats with limited amenities and no navigation system for what is often a days-long journey. Just an hour after a Coast Guard patrol, crew members spotted a makeshift vessel at sea with about eight people on board.
And it’s not just Cubans. Officials are also grappling with an increasing number of Haitian migrants traveling by sea. The Coast Guard has responded to incidents of large sailing cargo ships carrying dozens, if not hundreds, of Haitian migrants, putting those on board at great risk.
“The conditions on board were terrible,” said Mark Lamphere, a Coast Guard marine interdiction agent, recalling a ship that ran aground on the Florida coast this year.
“There were reports of injured people in the hull, so I had to jump in and it was clearly standing room only,” he said. Two hundred of them packed in and they would defecate and urinate right where they stand.”
Slosar recognized the demand for resources to address the new trends.
“We all work with finite resources, and when we encounter these individuals, you don’t know who is on that boat. It is our mission to understand who is coming into the country. It takes our agents time to get them into our taking care of them, making sure they’re healthy and they’re clean and they’re fed and safe and then identifying exactly who they are,” he said.