Migrant Repatriations Continue as Florida Steps Up Patrols

Buses carrying Cuban migrants leave from U.S. Coast Guard Sector Key West, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Key West, Fla. Homeland Security officials said 337 migrants were taken Thursday by Coast Guard cutter from Dry Tortugas National Park on a 70-mile trip to Key West for processing. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 273 migrants to Matanzas, Cuba, over the weekend following interdictions off the Florida Keys.

While more than 4,400 migrants from Cuba and Haiti have made their way by boat to the state since August, more than 700 migrants arrived in the Florida Keys over New Year’s weekend, officials said. Many arrived on makeshift, motorized rafts used to make the dangerous 100-mile (160-kilometer) journey from the communist island across the dangerous Florida Straits.

That led Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday to mobilize the Florida National Guard. The National Guard did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the mobilization.

However, the governor said in a statement Friday that the state will deploy airplanes, helicopter and marine patrols to the area “to support water interdictions and ensure the safety of migrants attempting to reach Florida through the Florida Straits.”

There was no official word on the number of migrants landing in the Florida Keys over the weekend.

In a statement sent Monday, the ACLU of Florida condemned the governor’s actions, saying the migrants are taking to the sea to flee “extreme political and economic distress in their home countries.”

“As migrants arrive at our shore, our number one priority as a state should be to ensure that every person is safe, healthy, cared for, and treated humanely,” Tiffani Lennon, the ACLU’s executive director, said.

“Instead of politicizing the issue, elected officials must work with groups on the ground and assist organizations that have stepped up to welcome and support migrants and people seeking asylum,” Lennon said.

On Friday, DeSantis criticized Democratic President Joe Biden and the federal government’s immigration policies and response to the migrants landing in the Keys.

The governor’s statement made no mention of the Biden administration’s announcement Thursday of a new policy to start turning back Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans at the Texas border, along with Venezuelans, who arrive illegally. The administration also said it would offer humanitarian parole for up 30,000 people a month from those four countries if they apply online, pay their airfare and find a financial sponsor.

More than 4,400 migrants, mostly Cubans with some Haitians, have arrived by boat in Florida since August as those two countries face deepening and compounding political and economic crises. Because Washington and Havana do not have diplomatic relations, it is problematic for the U.S. government to send Cubans back once they arrive in Florida.

Those who are stopped at sea are already taken back, since Cuba will accept those people. Almost 8,000 Cubans and Haitians have been intercepted since August — about 50 per day compared with 17 per day in the 2021-22 fiscal year and just two per day during the 2020-21 fiscal year. Officials said at least 65 migrants have died at sea since August.