Category Archives: Rafters

Cuban migration at sea has plummeted since Obama ended ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy, top Coast Guard officer says

The Washington Post

The Coast Guard’s top officer said Wednesday that the number of migrants intercepted at sea by his service off the coast of Florida has plummeted since January, largely a symptom of President Barack Obama ending the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy with Cuba a week before he left office.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, said the sea service has intercepted fewer than 100 migrants since the Jan. 12 announcement, after detaining more than 10,000 migrants off the coast of Florida in 2016. The policy generally allowed Cubans who made it to American soil to pursue legal residency but was eliminated following Obama’s decision to restore relations with Cuba for the first time since 1961.

The policy, established by President Bill Clinton, for years gave Cubans hope that if they could make the 90-mile trip by sea, they could become Americans. But many of them did so in makeshift craft that capsized or sunk, creating crises at sea. If they did not make it all the way to Florida, U.S. authorities typically detained and returned them to their homeland.

Zukunft said Obama’s decision has curtailed the number of dangerous situations the Coast Guard saw in the region, especially when migrants did something rash in an effort to make to the United States.

“I’m talking self-mutilation, self-inflicted gunshot wounds, very desperate measures so that they would be evacuated to a hospital in the United States and then be declared feet-dry and then paroled in the United States,” Zukunft said. “We would have interdictions where they would threaten to drown a baby if we were to stop them.”

The number of migrants spiked in anticipation of Obama changing the policy before he left office. Prior to his decision, the Coast Guard said it intercepted 3,376 migrants off the coast of Florida in fiscal 2014 and 2,094 in fiscal 2013. Of those 3,376 migrants, 2,059 came from Cuba, with people from Haiti and the Dominican Republican making up the bulk of the rest.

Cuban families desperately seek information on relatives who arrived on a go-fast boat

The Miami Herald

The call from Cuba ended with a sense of dread for Yandry Pérez.

His aunt warned him through the interrupted telephone call from Villa Clara, in central Cuba, that the whereabouts of his mother and two younger brothers had been unknown for two days. Some 50 Cubans fled the island last weekend aboard speedboats to Florida, even though they knew they would no longer receive preferential treatment upon arrival in the United States. The escape had been organized in absolute secrecy.

“For days, we have been waiting for news, succumbed to total uncertainty,” said Pérez, who two years ago crossed seven international borders to take advantage of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which was repealed by former President Barack Obama in the last days of his administration.

“When we saw in the news that they had caught two boats with Cubans we breathed a sigh of relief,” he said.

His mother, Marlenes Romero León, 47, along with his brothers Yusdiel and Kevin, 20 and 11, respectively, boarded the speedboat as a last resort to reunite with the rest of the family that was already in Florida. A process of reunification that had begun a few years earlier was frustrated when Romero was denied a visa to travel to the United States to reunite with the father of her children.

“On television I was able to see one of my brothers, so I know they are being detained,” said Pérez, who is desperately trying to find out where his relatives are so he can hire a lawyer to handle the case.

“We believe they can apply for political asylum. On more than one occasion they arrested my mother. They would not even allow her to go to the beach so she could not try to escape from Cuba, he said. “My brother is a child, they should at least let us take care of him.”

On Sunday, a 40-foot speedboat was intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It had more than 30 migrants aboard, five of whom ran into the mangroves in an attempt to escape authorities but were later caught.

A few hours earlier, a small boat with seven Cubans aboard was intercepted at Blackpoint Park and Marina, south of Miami-Dade. A third boat with 21 migrants was intercepted near Key Largo.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the agency could not provide any information about the case or those involved because it is part of an open investigation.

Authorities are investigating the boatmen who transported the Cubans from the island. If they prove to be human traffickers they could face severe penalties.

Family members in Florida said they did not know whether their relatives had paid for the trip, but it is known that similar trips on speedboats can cost thousands of dollars, even before the end of wet foot, dry foot, which allowed most Cubans who made it onto U.S. soil to stay.

Since news broke of the Cuban migrants’ arrival, Julio Infante, who lives in Miami, has not stopped looking for the whereabouts of his father-in-law, who allegedly traveled on one of those boats.

“I’ve been to several places but they always tell me that they cannot give information. We are desperate because we do not even know if he is alive,” Infante said.

The missing relative is Wilber Hechavarría, 46, who left his home in Las Tunas in eastern Cuba. Family members on the island called his daughter, Yoandra, in Miami, so she could keep an eye on the news.

“He wanted to be with her and leave Cuba. He always wanted to leave that country because over there, people have to steal in order to eat,” said Infante.

“My wife came from Guatemala a year ago crossing international borders. She arrived pregnant. We already have a family and we wanted her father to be with us, too,” he said.

Although the migrants knew about the end of wet foot, dry foot, they ventured across the Florida Straits with the belief that they would find some way to legalize their situation later in the U.S.

For Infante, it does not matter that the policy that facilitated the entry of Cubans to the United States is over.

“In the end, we would find a way to legalize his status or he would remain undocumented,” he said. “Either way, that would be better than staying in Cuba.”

Immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen said that Cubans who arrive on U.S. territory and do not surrender to immigration authorities not only will not have the right to avail themselves of the Cuban Adjustment Act a year and a day after arrival, but they also cannot obtain legal status even if they marry U.S. citizens.

“When a rafter or any undocumented Cuban arrives in the United States, he is obliged to appear before the authorities for processing. The migrant can apply for political asylum if he is persecuted and fears to return to Cuba,” Allen said.

If the case for migrants seeking asylum is deemed credible, they have the right to request asylum before a judge and, if granted, they could then adjust their status through the Cuban Adjustment Act, Allen said.

“If the migrant who entered the United States illegally does not present himself to the authorities, he remains undocumented and it is very difficult for him to legalize his status later,” he said. “He is subject to immediate deportation.”

Changes to immigration policy will not stem the Cuban exodus, those on the island say

The Miami Herald

When Washington put an end to a preferential immigration policy for Cuban migrants nearly two weeks ago, the official reasoning behind the move was to stem the flow of an increasing exodus and prompt democratic changes on the island.

Many in the exile community considered the new measure a “gift” for the Cuban government.

But looming questions remain: Will Cubans stay in their homeland or continue to flee? And is the Cuban government the real winner with this agreement?

Part of the debate was generated by the way the policy shift came about — announced through a joint statement from both governments and without warning to avoid a migratory crisis, according to Ben Rhodes, Obama’s adviser on Cuba.

Antonio Rodiles, a Cuban government opponent and one of the coordinators of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms, told el Nuevo Herald that the policy revision was “necessary” but criticized the “abrupt” way in which it was carried out. He also took issue with the fact that the announcement was made jointly with the Cuban government, with the release of a “shameful” document in which “the Cuban regime spoke of the defense of human rights and other issues in which it has been the principal violator.”

Rodiles said that the policy “had been distorted” by the Raúl Castro government itself, which constructed a narrative in which the emigres “fled for economic and not political reasons.” Many repeated that statement upon arrival in the United States to avoid conflicts with the government and to be able to return to the island, where many left behind their closest relatives.

These kinds of public declarations, along with high-profile crimes committed by some newly arrived immigrants, elicited negative opinions among the public, including Cuban exiles who arrived in earlier migration waves. Two Cuban American congressmen, Carlos Curbelo and Marco Rubio, even filed a bill to restrict Cuban immigrants’ access to federal benefits and grant them only to those who had left the island for political reasons.

Continue reading Changes to immigration policy will not stem the Cuban exodus, those on the island say

BREAKING NEWS – Obama ending the wet foot dry foot policy

USA Today

The Obama administration is ending the 20-year-old “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allows most Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil to become legal permanent residents after one year.

The decision was confirmed by a congressional staffer who was briefed by the administration but was not authorized to publicly discuss the plan.

In exchange, Cuba has agreed to start accepting Cubans who have been issued a deportation order in the U.S., something they have refused to do for decades.

The decision comes as President Obama tries to cement his historic opening with the communist island and one week before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Trump has said he would renegotiate the deal with Cuba.

Families of Cuban Migrants Desperate For Answers

lighthouse

CBS Miami

A Coast Guard Cutter remains at sea Monday, where it’s been since Friday with 21 Cuban migrants on board.

Many of the South Floridians who believe their loved ones are on that Coast Guard vessel have turned to the attorneys at the Democracy Movement for help.

They not only want to ensure those on board will not be sent back to Cuba, they also simply want verification that their relatives survived the journey and are with the Coast Guard.

“It’s so sad because you don’t know about him, nobody can tell you anything. And they know what happened with the people,” said Hildanys Rodriguez through tears. She became emotional when talking with CBS4’s Natalia Zea about the possible worst case scenario, involving her cousin Francis Alejo.

She knows he left Cuba on a homemade boat with friends, and prays he is one of the migrants picked up five miles off of Marathon Key Friday but at this point the Coast Guard is not naming names.

“Nobody wants to give information, please I ask if somebody can help,” said Rodriguez.

Compounding Rodriguez’s fear is the knowledge that relatives in South Florida have given the Democracy Movement 38 names of those believed to have left Cuba at the same time. But the Coast Guard found only 21.

Two were found in the water near the American Shoal Lighthouse. Nineteen others made it to the lighthouse itself.

“We’re talking about persons. It’s so really hard. It’s so hard to not know what happened to your family,” said Rodriguez.

Yamilia Carril also hopes her nephew Carlos Barrios was one of the 19 migrants who swam to the federally-owned lighthouse, and are awaiting word from the federal government, whether this counts as U.S. land, under the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy.

“I’m very nervous with my nephew,” she told Zea.

Cuban exile activist Ramon Saul Sanchez says the lighthouse is clearly part of the United States.

“The lighthouse is anchored in the platform of U.S. territory. It is in U.S. waters,” said Sanchez.

Continue reading Families of Cuban Migrants Desperate For Answers

Will Carnival be next? Cubans found hiding in ship carrying filming equipment of Fast and Furious 8

fast

La Prensa

Florida authorities found three Cubans hiding in a cargo ship arriving from Cuba and which was carrying filming equipment used in the shooting of the movie “Fast and Furious 8”.

Spokespersons for Port Everglades in Broward County, South Florida, confirmed to EFE that the Cubans were found inside a cargo ship arriving at the maritime terminal, one of the world’s busiest ports which recorded more than 3.7 million passengers in 2015.

The Cubans, whose identities have not been revealed, were then handed over to the local office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The eighth installment of the “Fast and Furious” series, starring Vin Diesel, was shot in Havana a few weeks ago and there are plans to shoot more scenes in New York City.

Cubans who touch land on U.S. territory are favored by the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 and its policy of ‘dry feet/wet feet’ which means they can stay in the country, while those who are intercepted before reaching the coast are deported to the island.

Last fiscal year from Oct. 1, 2014 to Sep. 30, 2015, more than 43,000 Cubans came to the U.S., representing a rise of more than 77 percent compared to the previous period, according to the CBP.

The restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries in July 2015, with the opening of embassies, has raised fears that immigrant benefits to Cubans will be curbed, while immigration experts say the renewed ties have led to a fresh exodus from the Caribbean island to the United States.

Wounded rafters say shooters in Cuba tried to steal boat

Yaser Cabrera Romero, one of the rafters who arrived from Cuba on Saturday
Yaser Cabrera Romero, one of the rafters who arrived from Cuba on Saturday

The Miami Herald

Shortly before sailing from Cuba, 26 Cubans who were about to board a raft were set upon by a group of criminals who opened fire with a gun and wounded seven, including a pregnant woman, all in a failed attempt to steal their makeshift boat, two of the wounded migrants said upon arriving in Miami Sunday afternoon.

“We really don’t know who shot us, but we think it was criminals who wanted to steal the raft,” said Yaser Cabrera Romero, one of the migrants interviewed after arriving at the Doral office of Church World Service, an agency that helps refugees and immigrants resettle in the United States. “We were just arriving in a vehicle that took us to the raft, and while we were still on shore, four people showed up and yelled: ‘Stay where you are. The boat is ours!’ ”

Rather than surrendering, the 26 migrants confronted the criminals, one of whom then pulled out a gun — but the alleged thugs ultimately fled after wounding seven rafters. Though wounded, the rafters decided to continue with their plan. They say they boarded the raft in the area of ​​Matanzas, east of Havana, and sailed at 3 a.m. Saturday. They traveled for nine hours to the outskirts of Key West, where they were intercepted by the Coast Guard from United States.

“We sailed for nine hours, injured and bleeding,” Cabrera Romero said.

The dramatic story told by Cabrera Romero and another rafter, Jorge Luis Escalona, ​​who were transported to Miami from Key West after being released by the hospital, marked the first time that participants in the incident provided a detailed explanation of the initial mystery that surrounded the case.

Six of the rafters whose injuries were considered serious were taken to a hospital near Key West. The wounded seventh rafter was transferred with the other remaining 19 migrants to a Coast Guard cutter likely to be returned to Cuba, unless one or more claim fear of persecution if returned, in which case they would be taken to the naval base at Guantánamo to be processed for resettlement in a third country.

The case sparked widespread interest because seven of the migrants were wounded by gunfire, an unusual occurrence, and because U.S. authorities did not explain the circumstances surrounding the incident. The case raised suspicions about how the seven rafters came to be shot. Among the theories was that the migrants may have wounded themselves to force the Coast Guard to bring them ashore.

When the Coast Guard finds sick rafters, they are brought ashore to receive medical care. This allows the migrants transported ashore to stay in the U.S and apply for permanent residence after more than a year under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Generally, Cuban migrants who are intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy.

But Cabrera Romero and Escalona, ​​the other rafter interviewed in Doral, said the incident was an attempted robbery.

“We confronted them and one drew a gun,” Escalona said. “It was very dark, and we think they were criminals who wanted to steal our raft.”

Escalona, ​​a nephew of his who was not interviewed and Cabrera Romero showed their wounds to journalists.

Escalona had a wound on his side, his nephew on the shoulder and Cabrera Romero in the abdomen. The three said the pregnant woman had been shot in the back and that the injured rafter who was not brought ashore had a bullet in the foot. It is not known where the remaining two rafters were injured. The woman and another rafter were still hospitalized, Cabrera Romero and Escalona said.

Cabrera Romero said doctors told him that his wound was not life-threatening but that the bullet was still inside his body.

“They gave me morphine, but I have still have the bullet inside and it hurts a lot,” Cabrera Romero said. “I’ve had that bullet in me for more than 24 hours.”

The Coast Guard issued a statement on Sunday morning: “The U.S. Coast Guard interdicted 26 Cuban migrants aboard a make-shift raft south of Key West, Florida, Saturday afternoon. Seven of the 26 migrants had gunshot wounds sustained prior to the interdiction. The most critical, six, were medevaced to a local area hospital. The remaining 20 migrants will likely be returned to their country of origin. The U.S. Coast Guard works hard to ensure the safety of migrants on our cutters after an interdiction and strongly discourages attempts to illegally enter the country by taking to the sea. These trips are extremely dangerous and could lead to loss of life.”

According to KeysInfoNet, the six wounded rafters brought ashore were taken to the Lower Keys Medical Center on Stock Island. Coast Guard spokesmen said the Border Patrol was in charge of the six Cubans who were taken to the hospital.

Frank Miller, a Border Patrol spokesman, said four were released to the agency that generally handles their paperwork. He had no information on the other two.

Miller declined to provide more details because the case is part of an “ongoing investigation.”

Normally, Cuban rafters who reach shore and have not been wounded by gunfire are retained by the Border Patrol for a few hours, or at most a day, for background checks and to process their parole documents to remain in the country.

The Coast Guard reported last week that nine Cubans had died at sea during a voyage to South Florida, according to Cuban migrants who were rescued by a cruise ship near Marco Island, off the west coast of Florida. The 18 survivors, who were taken to Cozumel, Mexico, said they had tossed the bodies into the sea, according to the Coast Guard.

Also, in separate incidents last week, 58 Cuban migrants intercepted at sea on several vessels were repatriated.

According to Coast Guard figures, so far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2,562 Cubans have been intercepted, sighted or have landed in Florida.

In fiscal year 2015, about 4,476 Cuban migrants were intercepted, spotted or arrived by sea, the largest number in more than seven years.

According to the Coast Guard, uncertainty about a possible change in U.S. immigration policy with Cuba has led to a larger number of Cuban immigrants since President Barack Obama in December 2014 ordered the restoration of relations with the island.

26 rafters intercepted by Coast Guard, seven of them had been shot

balserosheridos

The Miami Herald

It’s a mystery on the sea.

When a U.S. Coast Guard crew encountered a makeshift raft just south of Key West on Saturday, they found 26 Cuban migrants aboard — and seven had been shot.

Six had critical wounds and were taken to a hospital on Stock Island. A seventh wounded migrant was transferred with the remaining 19 to a Coast Guard cutter to await likely repatriation to Cuba, unless one or more claim fear of persecution if returned. If that happens, they would then be taken to the Guantánamo naval base to be processed for possible resettlement in a third country.

But who shot them?

Were they injured as they left Cuba? Did they wound themselves in order to get to a U.S. hospital on land? Did they fight among themselves or with a smuggler? Was it an accident?

Authorities aren’t saying much.

When the Coast Guard finds Cuban rafters injured or sick, they bring them ashore to receive medical care. That usually allows them to stay in the United States and apply for permanent residence after more than a year in the country under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Generally, Cuban rafters intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba under the wet foot/dry foot policy.

The Coast Guard issued a statement on Sunday morning recounting the number of migrants found and how many had gunshot wounds.

According to KeysInfoNet, the six were taken to the Lower Keys Medical Center on Stock Island. Coast Guard spokesmen said the Border Patrol was in charge of the six Cubans who were taken to the hospital.

Frank Miller, a Border Patrol spokesman, said four were released to the agency that generally handles their paperwork. He had no information on whether the other two remained in Border Patrol custody.

Miller declined to provide more details because the case is part of a “ongoing investigation.”

Normally, Cuban rafters who reach shore and have not been wounded by gunfire are retained by the Border Patrol for a few hours or at most a day for background checks and to process their parole documents to remain in the country.

The Coast Guard reported last week that nine Cubans had died at sea during a voyage to South Florida, according to Cuban migrants who were rescued by a cruise ship near Marco Island, off the west coast of Florida. The 18 survivors, who were taken to Cozumel, Mexico, said they had tossed the bodies into the sea, according to the Coast Guard.

Also, in separate incidents last week, 58 Cuban migrants intercepted at sea on several vessels were repatriated.

According to Coast Guard figures, so far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2,562 Cubans have been intercepted, sighted or have landed in Florida, 269 of them during February.

In fiscal year 2015, about 4,476 Cuban migrants were intercepted, spotted or arrived by sea, the largest number in more than seven years.

According to the Coast Guard, uncertainty about a possible change in U.S. immigration policy Cuba has led to a larger number of Cuban immigrants since President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of relations with Cuba it began the process of normalization in December 2014.

Two days before Obama goes to his Cuba vacation, nine rafters die trying to escape

Royal Caribbean cruise ship stops to rescue eight Cuban refugees adrift in the Caribbean as shocked passengers look on

Daily Mail

The refugees were floating on a row boat attached to barrels
    They were spotted just before the sun rose on Sunday morning  
    They were taken aboard the Independence of the Seas ship until the US Coast Guard arrived to pick them up
    One passenger said at first people thought the refugees were pirates

rafters1123
Eight refugees fleeing from Cuba were rescued by a Royal Caribbean cruise ship after they were spotted out at sea just before the sun came up on Sunday morning.

The refugees were floating on a row boat that appeared to be attached to barrels, with backpacks and paddles inside.

They were taken aboard the cruise ship aptly-titled Independence of the Seas until the US Coast Guard arrived and picked them up.

Passenger Mark Sims said that at first others believed the refugees were pirates trying to get on the ship.

There were more than 4,000 passengers and 1,500 crew members on board at the time.

This isn’t the first time a Royal Caribbean ship picked up Cuban refugees.