(CNN Spanish) — Florida authorities are seeing an alarming trend in the south of the state, due to the growing number of immigrants — mainly Haitians and Cubans — arriving on US shores in makeshift boats.
The US Coast Guard has intercepted more than 6,000 Cubans since last October, according to the agency, the most in a fiscal year since the 1990s.
“We’ve seen this before. It’s a natural phenomenon. But seeing this increase is really worrying, because we’re seeing more people on unseaworthy boats, putting a lot of those people at risk.” high risk of losing their lives,” said Walter Slosar, Miami Sector Chief Patrol Agent.
Cubans have been fleeing the island for years, but recent unrest, persecution and shortages of basic goods have accelerated the exodus.
“People have arrived with stories of persecution by the government, due to their disagreement to participate in certain events, or because they do not agree with the island’s communist policy. It is not just them but also many stories of their family members, friends who were apprehended, detained for minor offenses that do not qualify as crimes,” said David Claros, director of Immigration Legal Services for the Southeast Region at Church World Service. In addition, He added that he is currently hiring additional personnel to respond to the situation.
Patrols in the area are complicated by the varying terrain, which requires coordination between agencies on the ground, in the air, and at sea. Recently, CNN participated in US Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations, the US Border Patrol and the Coast Guard.
The agencies will work together to identify and intercept the migrants, so that they can be repatriated. However, if they do make landfall, they will be taken into Border Patrol custody.
But as the Coast Guard tries to intercept the migrants before they reach the US coast, thousands of them have managed to make landfall. So far this fiscal year, border authorities have arrested nearly 3,600 people in the Miami sector, which covers more than 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers) of Florida’s coastline. Last year, arrests reached just over 1,000.
Authorities daily encounter a wide range of vessels at sea and on shore, ranging from tethered surfboards to boats with limited supplies and no navigation system; all for what is usually a trip of several days. Just an hour after the Coast Guard patrol began, crew members spotted a makeshift boat in the sea with approximately eight people.
And the migrants are not just Cubans. Officials are dealing with a growing number of Haitian immigrants traveling to the US by sea. The Coast Guard responded to incidents involving large freighters carrying dozens, if not hundreds, of Haitian immigrants, putting those on board in great danger.
“Conditions on board were horrible,” said Mark Lamphere, a Coast Guard maritime interdiction officer, recalling a vessel that washed up off the Florida coast this year. “There were reports of people being injured, so I had to jump over there and there was only room to stand,” he said, adding, “Two hundred of them would pile up there and defecate and urinate right where they were standing.”
Slosar acknowledged that there is a demand for more resources to address the new numbers of immigrants. “We’re working with finite resources, and when we come across these people, you don’t know who’s on that ship. Our mission is to understand who’s coming into the country. Our agents take time to bring them into our custody, make sure they are healthy, clean, fed and safe, and then identify exactly who they are,” he said.