Coast Guard returns 119 migrants to Cuba

Two Coast Guard cutters returned 119 Cuban nationals to the communist island in an operation that included 12 interdictions at sea between Thursday and Saturday.

The Coast Guard announced the interdictions and returns late Tuesday, detailing how its own personnel, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials and good Samaritans scoured the South Florida Straits to rescue the drifting Cubans.

Cuban state media called the operation the largest repatriation in four years, according to a report by Reuters.

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According to the Coast Guard, 586 Cuban migrants have attempted to reach the United States by sea since October.

In all of fiscal 2021, 838 migrants attempting the voyage were accounted for, according to the Coast Guard.

Cuban migration by sea had tapered off in the past few years, with many of the island's nationals preferring to fly to Latin American countries on the continent and attempt the crossing by land through Mexico.

Since 2017, Cuban nationals have been subject to essentially the same immigration laws as nationals from other countries.

For decades before, the United States maintained the "wet foot dry foot" policy that allowed Cuban defectors to stay once they reached U.S. soil, but they were returned if interdicted at sea.

In 2016, 5,396 Cubans were registered as attempting the crossing by the Coast Guard.

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The 119 migrants were returned to Cuba's northern shore, where they were received by health care workers, according to Reuters.

In part because Cuba does not generally allow its citizens to leave the country without prior authorization, the vessels used by migrants have traditionally been coastal or makeshift boats not suited for the open seas.

“Navigating the seas in a less than seaworthy vessel is dangerous and could result in loss of life," said Coast Guard Capt. Adam Chamie, commander of Sector Key West.

"Coast Guard crews and our local and federal law enforcement partners maintain an active presence with air and sea assets every day through the Florida Straits to help save lives by removing people from unsafe environments and deterring dangerous migrant voyages. We urge people not to take to the sea in unseaworthy vessels," added Chamie.