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Surge in Cuban migrants landing in the Keys in homemade boats

 People from Cuba made landfall in the Florida Keys in December 2022 on this handmade boat, the U.S. Border Patrol said. Federal agencies have seen a significant increase in maritime migration this year.
U.S. Border Patrol
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People from Cuba made landfall in the Florida Keys in December 2022 on this handmade boat, the U.S. Border Patrol said. Federal agencies have seen a significant increase in maritime migration this year.

In the Florida Keys, the Coast Guard and U.S. Border Patrol are responding to what they say is a huge increase in immigrant crossings.

Migrant arrivals in South Florida are about five times what they were a year ago, according to authorities - leading U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to increase their presence in the area.

Reports of arrivals are commonplace in the Keys. Last month more than 180 people from Cuba were taken into custody over two days. Between Sunday and Tuesday alone, more than 120 people from the island landed in the Keys on handmade boats.

According to the Border Patrol, since Oct. 1, more than 2,350 people have been taken into federal custody in South Florida. That doesn’t include nearly three thousand people who have been caught at sea by the Coast Guard during the same time period.

A U.S. Coast Guard crew said it stopped an illegal Haitian migration trip in December 2022, about 50 miles south of Cudjoe Key.
U.S. Coast Guard
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A U.S. Coast Guard crew said it stopped an illegal Haitian migration trip in December 2022, about 50 miles south of Cudjoe Key.

“Due to maritime migrant fluctuations in Florida, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has deployed additional Border Patrol and air and marine agents to the South Florida area of operation," said Rob Brisley, a spokesman for CBP.

"CBP seeks to deter and disrupt human smuggling activities by transnational criminal organizations and ensure our personnel are properly equipped to maintain border security.”

Tragic loss of life

It’s a surge that appears to only keep rising. People from Cuba, Haiti and Latin American countries mired in crises are getting into rickety boats and risking their lives at sea to get to Florida.

Most of the landings are in the Keys. Most of the people are from Cuba.

These trips are illegal. They’re also dangerous. Sometimes the Coast Guard rescues people who are drowning — too often they have found bodies or had to give up the search for missing migrants.

"Coast Guard and partner agency crews are patrolling the Florida Straits, and Windward and Mona Passages to prevent tragic loss of life from these dangerous and illegal maritime voyages," said Lt. Paul Puddington, Coast Guard District Seven, after the Coast Guard returned 126 people to Cuba earlier this month. "For the safety of yourself, friends, and family, don't take to the sea."

The USCG routinely returns Cuban migrants to Cuba. On Dec. 10 alone, two Coast Guard cutter crews returned 152 Cubans to Cuba, after making multiple stops of boats off Florida's coast.

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Gwen Filosa