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20 Cuban migrants land in the Florida Keys, Border Patrol says, but likely won’t stay

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Twenty Cuban migrants made landfall in the Florida Keys over the weekend on a homemade vessel, the U.S. Border Patrol said Tuesday.

Federal agents responded at about 4 a.m. Sunday to the site on Grassy Key in the Middle Keys where they found 16 men and four women. They were taken into federal custody and will likely be returned to Cuba on a Coast Guard cutter.

The group left Matanzas, Cuba, on Oct. 15 and spent more than two days at sea before making it to the Keys, Border Patrol spokesman Adam Hoffner said.

On Monday, the Coast Guard said it returned another group to Cuba, totaling 45 people, following three separate stops between Friday and Saturday, all due to “safety of life at sea concerns.”

One stop was about 40 miles off Key West.

“There is a controlled, safe and legal means of migration to the United States,” said Lt. j.g. Connor Ives, a Coast Guard Seventh District enforcement officer. “Failing to follow this process by migrating by sea is illegal and endangers the lives of all involved.”

The number of people willing to make the dangerous journey from Cuba to South Florida, typically on makeshift boats, spiked this year.

Deputies stopped a truck hauling a boat in the Keys. They found 32 Cuban migrants inside

The Coast Guard tracks the number of migrants caught by fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. In fiscal year 2021, the Coast Guard stopped 838 people, which is more than the three previous years combined.

In 2020, the number was only 49.

Experts say the increase reflects the deteriorating economic, political and healthcare conditions in Cuba.

The risky at-sea attempts are happening years after the so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy ended. That policy had allowed Cuban migrants who set foot on U.S. land above the high-water mark to stay in the country and apply for permanent residency. In turn, it required those caught by U.S. authorities at sea to be returned home.

“Wet-foot, dry-foot,” was ended by the Obama administration in early 2017 in one of its final foreign policy decisions.

Since Oct. 1, Coast Guard crews have stopped 122 Cubans at sea, the agency reported this week.

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