Migration

The Coast Guard arrested more than 3,000 Cuban migrants at sea

The US Coast Guard has arrested at sea more than 3,000 Cuban migrants fleeing deteriorating economic, security and political conditions in the island nation who have been heading to the Florida coast since October – more than the last five exercises combined, depending on the agency.

The staggering figure comes as the Coast Guard announced it had returned 64 migrants to Cuba on Sunday after locating them in four separate boats off the Florida Keys in less than 48 hours.

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A civilian notified Key West sector watchmen of this migrant vessel about 40 miles southwest of Key West, Florida on July 8, 2022. They were repatriated to Cuba on July 10. US Coast Guard

EN ESPAÑOL: Guardacostas de EEUU intercepted more than 3,000 Cubans who left for Florida

A Coast Guard crew spotted a “rustic vessel” at 9 p.m. Thursday 25 miles south of Key West. Two and a half hours later, the same crew spotted another boat in similar conditions 30 miles south of Key West.

On Friday, civilians reported to authorities the presence of two migrant ships. The first was found at 8:15 a.m. 14 miles south of Boot Key; the second at 5:30 p.m. 40 miles south of Key West.

READ MORE: Gun fights at sea: Cuba says it was gunfights with boats heading to pick up migrants

“Migrating illegally in makeshift vessels, especially without life jackets or safety gear, is incredibly dangerous,” Coast Guard District Seven Lt. Paul Puddington said in a news release Sunday. “Please, for your own safety, do not go to sea.”

More than 140,000 Cubans were detained at US borders between October and May, surpassing the Mariel exodus of 1980 when 125,000 Cubans left the port of Mariel near Havana between April and October of that year.

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The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Pablo Valent alerted observers in the Key West sector to this rustic vessel about 30 miles south of Key West, Florida on July 7, 2022. The Cubans were repatriated to Cuba on July 10 . US Coast Guard

READ MORE: Lost contact with migrant relatives sailing to Florida? Here’s how to get their status

The Coast Guard tallies the number of migrants detained at sea by fiscal year, which begins October 1 and ends September 30 of the following year. Since October 1 of last year, Coast Guard crews have arrested 3,067 Cubans, against:

  • 838 Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2021
  • 49 Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2020
  • 313 Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2019
  • 259 Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2018
  • 1,468 Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2017
  • 5,396 Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2016

This story was originally published July 10, 2022 4:21 p.m.

Omar is a bilingual, bicultural journalist, covering breaking South Florida news for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree in education from the Universidad de Puerto Rico en Río Piedras.