The Coast Guard returned another 177 Cuban migrants caught at sea off Florida to the island on Thursday, while a group of two dozen Haitians washed ashore in Miami.
According to a Coast Guard press release, all of the Cuban migrants were intercepted off the coast earlier this month. They were repatriated by two coast guard boats.
Twenty-five Haitians who arrived on a sailboat from Port-de-Paix, Haiti, washed ashore on Virginia Key, a small island southeast of downtown Miami, and were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said agency spokesman Michael Selva said.
Good Samaritans among visitors to the islands helped some migrants get ashore in small boats and jet skis, Selva said.
Emergency services said CBS Miami the Haitian migrants looked shocked. They gave them blankets, food and water.
“Life is the number one priority right now. To make sure that everyone is OK, that they are accounted for and that they are healthy,” Silva said.
Dozens of additional migrants still aboard the sailing ship were processed by federal officials at sea, which usually means they are returned to their home countries.
“I was on the water near Virginia Key and all I saw was a bunch of boats and the Coast Guard all around,” one eyewitness told CBS Miami. “It’s happened a lot, so it’s a crisis, so it’s kind of hard for everybody. For me, as an immigrant, it really hurts.”
Increasing numbers of Cuban and Haitian migrants have attempted the risky crossing of the Florida Straits in recent months to illegally enter the Keys Island chain and other parts of the state as inflation rises and economic conditions in their home countries worsen.
The surge among Cubans is especially noticeable. The Coast Guard has apprehended more than 4,900 Cuban migrants at sea since Oct. 1, 2022, compared to more than 6,100 Cubans intercepted in the entire 2022 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to a press release.
The latest returns and landings come just after President Joe Biden’s administration launched a new policy to begin turning back Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans at the Texas border, as well as Venezuelans who arrived illegally.
The administration is also offering humanitarian parole to up to 30,000 people a month from those four countries if they apply online, pay their airfare and find a financial sponsor.
Migrants who arrived illegally and did not immediately return home will not be eligible for new parole. US officials hope it will deter sea arrivals by offering a safer alternative and route to housing.
The U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, recently resumed visa processing for migrants and said Wednesday that some initial Cuban applicants have already been accepted under the new parole program. In the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, potential applicants have flocked to the immigration office in recent days to apply for passports needed for the US program.
Coast Guard Commander Mark Cobb said in a statement that with the new legal pathways available to migrants, “we encourage all people to use the safe and legal means available to travel to the United States. Do not put your life at risk by going to sea unless you are need”.