A small wooden boat containing a large sail washed ashore in Islamorada on May 2. Onboard the homemade vessel was a group of Cuban migrants who sailed some 15 days to the U.S. 

Monroe County sheriff’s deputies and Border Patrol agents were among the first to arrive at the scene at MM 75.4, where 11 Cubans sat off to the side of the road. With their feet on U.S. soil, their faces gleamed with happiness and hope.

The group was ultimately taken into federal custody after making landfall in a homemade vessel. According to Border Patrol, the migrants reported that they departed from Ciego De Avila, Cuba, on April 25.

According to Border Patrol, migrants will be processed for removal proceedings and turned over to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations custody.

Some family members showed up to the scene of the landing to greet them. Ultimately, they could be sent back to their home country of Cuba. But they might also stay in the states. 

According to a Miami Herald report, only 20 Cubans voluntarily returned to the island since the start of the 2022 fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2021. A spokesman with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the Herald that the Cuban government isn’t accepting any ICE removals via commercial or charter flights. It all came to a stop in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Cuba’s airports reopened in October 2020 but suspended flights until November 2021, the Herald reports. With airports open, deportations haven’t been accepted since the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year. A spokesman told the Herald a total of 40,450 Cubans in the U.S. who either committed crimes or have immigration violations have a final order of removal from an immigration court. 

The recent migrant landing is the sixth since April 29, when three Cubans arrived on a small vessel in Islamorada. Individuals reported that they encountered inclement weather and were briefly stranded off the coast of Cuba. 

Three more landings occurred in the Marquesas Keys, a series of uninhabited islands roughly 20 miles west of Key West on April 30. U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Fish & Wildlife assisted with the rescue of 21 Cubans who made landfall on two homemade boats around 9 a.m.

The Coast Guard provided medical checks to the migrants. Two Cubans were transported to a local hospital in Key West where they were subsequently treated and released to the custody of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

One landing took place in Miami Beach on April 29, with six Cubans arriving after spending nearly two weeks at sea on their homemade vessel. 

Border Patrol agents responded to another migrant landing on May 3 in Marathon. Thirteen Cubans were taken into Border Patrol custody after they arrived to a local beach on a homemade vessel.

“Once again, I am extremely proud of the coordinated actions with our local, state and federal agencies that led to the successful rescue of these migrants, specifically those who were stranded on uninhabited islands,” said Walter Slosar, chief patrol agent for U.S. Border Patrol out of Miami.

Slosar added that the journey becomes even more dangerous during the summer months as temperatures rise. Also, hurricane season begins June 1.

“We encourage migrants to avoid risking their lives by taking to the seas of falling prey to unscrupulous smugglers who employ potential perilous tactics to avoid detection,” Slosar said. 

The 32 Cuban migrants were taken into the U.S. Border Patrol custody for further processing and will be turned over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.