A troubling trend is emerging in South Florida where authorities are seeing a growing number of immigrants, primarily Haitian and Cuban, traveling to U.S. shores on makeshift boats.
U.S. Coast Guard personnel 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 process. However, it’s really worrisome for us to see the increase and the fact that we’re seeing more people on non-oceanic vessels, which is a large number of those people. is in very serious danger of harm,” said Walter Slosser, the chief. Patrol Agent of the Miami Sector.
For years, Cubans have been fleeing the island, but recent unrest, persecution and shortages of basic goods have forced more to leave.
“People have come to us with stories of persecution by the local government because they are unable to participate in certain events because they disagree with the island’s indigenous and communist policies. It’s not just them, it’s families. There are also many stories of individuals, friends, who have been arrested, detained for minor, non-criminal offenses,” said David Claros, Southeast Region Director of Immigration Legal Services at Church World Service, adding that They are hiring additional staff to meet the demand.
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Patrolling here is complicated by the varied terrain, requiring coordination between land, air and maritime agencies. CNN recently embedded with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the Coast Guard.
The agencies will work together to identify and detain migrants so they can be sent back. If they make landfall, however, they are taken into Border Patrol custody.
While the Coast Guard tries to stop the migrants before they reach U.S. shores, thousands have made it ashore. So far this fiscal year, border officials have arrested nearly 3,600 in the Miami sector, which covers more than 1,200 miles of Florida coastline, up from just over 1,000 last year.
Officials are faced with a wide array of vessels at sea and on shore, including surfboards tied together and boats with limited provisions and no navigation systems for the often days-long voyage. Just an hour into the Coast Guard patrol, crew members spotted a makeshift vessel at sea with about eight people on board.
And it’s not just Cuba. Authorities are also dealing with a growing number of Haitian migrants traveling by sea. The Coast Guard has responded to dozens, if not hundreds, of incidents involving large ships carrying Haitian migrants, putting those on board at great risk.
Coast Guard Marine Induction Agent Mark Lamphere said the conditions on the ship were “horrendous” after recalling the ship that arrived off the coast of Florida this year.
“There were reports of people getting hurt in the hill, so I had to jump down there and it was standing room only,” he said. Two hundred of them were packed in there and they defecated and urinated where they stood.
Slosser recognized the demand for resources to cope with new trends.
“We’re all working with limited resources, and as we meet these individuals, you don’t know who’s on that boat. It’s our mission to understand who’s coming into the country. Our agents have them in our custody.” It takes time to bring in, make sure they’re healthy and they’re clean and they’re fed and they’re safe and then identify who they are,” he said.