The U.S. Coast Guard can barely keep up with the number of Cuban refugees trying to make it to the Keys.
Posted-Friday, September 16, 2005 7:46 PM EDT
Agency says migrants know resources thin
Friday, the agency said it repatriated 34 migrants who were intercepted off these islands the past six days.
But in that same time frame, 227 refugees made Keys landings, according to officers at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (formally the Border Patrol) office in Marathon.
While the calm summer waters in the Florida Straits normally account for a jump in Cuban migration year to year, it seems that Hurricane Katrina has also played a part for this week’s increased influx.
“It’s a combination of depleted resources of every [agency], which, of course, they weigh as an increased chance of success,” acting Patrol Agent in Charge Walter Harris said. “And the weather has been perfect for their smuggling effort.”
Harris said only one local officer had been sent to help in the Katrina effort, but in one of the busiest stations in the country, being even one officer down is a definite disadvantage.
On Sunday, 11 refugees were recovered from the Dry Tortugas. Then on Monday, 24 were found on Pelican Shoal about seven miles off Key West and another 36 came ashore at Boca Chica.
Tuesday, 34 landed at Pelican Shoal, 18 reached the Dry Tortugas, 27 landed on Little Palm Island and 30 were recovered on Key Colony Beach.
“We took custody of all those refugees in a 12-hour period,” Harris said. “We had just enough time to process all those people and then ended up with 14 more [Thursday] morning in Key Largo.”
Another 12 came ashore at Boca Chica Thursday and 21 more Friday morning.
“At this time, it’s only noticeable because it happened in such a short period of time,” Harris said. “If it was spread over weeks, we probably wouldn’t be talking.”
Harris said he is looking forward to moving into the agency’s new facility planned at 3770 Overseas Highway, across U.S. 1 from the Marathon Community Park.
In March 2001, the then-Border Patrol set up a permanent Middle Keys operation at small Coco Plum offices run by other law enforcement agencies, but has been actively searching for a new facility since.
The Marathon City Council approved a 3,200-square-foot expansion to the new facility, which is partially used by a bread delivery company, and prohibited using the space as a detention facility.
After refugees are processed, they are taken to a health assessment clinic in Miami and released.