a group of people standing on the side of a road
Florida Highway Patrol troopers and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office assist federal authorities on a migrant landing on April 23. They were rescued off an uninhabited island off Key Largo and brought to an area near MM 97. CONTRIBUTED

At sea, a federal task force works to deter illegal voyages among migrants in Haiti, Dominican Republic and Cuba seeking to flee political unrest and violence. 

Close to the Florida Keys shore, state resources deployed by Gov. Ron DeSantis are ready to assist in the event of a migrant landing. All in all, the Keys haven’t witnessed any major landings in 2024 despite fears of mass migrant flows at sea, especially among Haitians seeking to escape gang violence.

The Homeland Security Task Force – Southeast (HSTF-SE), a Department of Homeland Security team made up of federal, state and local partners, continues to patrol major water routes including the Florida Straits, Windward and Mona Passages. With assets on the water and in the air, HSTF-SE seeks not only to protect life at sea but prevent unlawful entry into the U.S. by sea.

“Our DHS-led task force partners are postured to prevent and deter irregular maritime migration, respond to dangerous voyages of unseaworthy and overloaded vessels, and conduct humanitarian assistance at sea,” said Rear Adm. Douglas Schofield, HSTF-SE director and Coast Guard District Seven commander. “Our U.S. maritime borders are not open and taking to the sea is not an option. Anyone desiring to come to the United States must do so through safe, legal pathways.”

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, migrants who are interdicted at sea or apprehended ashore will not be allowed to stay in the United States or a U.S. territory. Anyone who arrives unlawfully may be declared ineligible for legal immigration parole options and be repatriated to their country of origin or returned to the country from where the voyage departed. 

Perils faced at sea and the chances of being intercepted by U.S. authorities haven’t stopped the voyages among migrants. A chug carrying a group of Cuban migrants set sail to the Florida Keys, ultimately landing on an uninhabited Upper Keys island on April 23. 

A chug off the Florida Keys’ shore on April 23. The vessel carrying 18 migrants landed at Rodriguez Key off Key Largo. CBP/Contributed

Federal, state and local authorities responded to the landing on Rodriguez Key, just off Key Largo. The migrants were rescued by U.S. Customs & Border Patrol and the Coast Guard. They were transported to land near MM 97 in Key Largo where Florida Highway Patrol troopers and Monroe County sheriff’s deputies assisted federal authorities. 

The vessel contained 18 males and one female. They were expected to go through removal proceedings. 

On April 22, U.S Customs & Border patrol agents responded to a migrant landing in the Marquesas Keys. According to Samuel Briggs II, chief patrol agent, authorities encountered 21 Cuban migrants. They were taken into Border Patrol custody and processed for removal proceedings.

In March, DeSantis deployed more than 130 Florida guardsmen to South Florida and the Keys in response to a potential influx of Haitian migrants fleeing gang violence. FHP troopers, Florida Fish & Wildlife officers and Florida National Guard members were also deployed to assist federal authorities with migrant landings. 

Law enforcement agencies haven’t witnessed the large vessels carrying Haitian migrants like those seen in 2023, when local authorities confronted increased landings — and groundings — involving hundreds of Haitian and Cuban migrants. DeSantis, speaking during an April 24 press conference in Redington Shores, stated the voyage among migrants to places like the Florida Keys isn’t worth it knowing they’ll be “stopped, turned around and sent back to where you came from.”

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures in Western New York. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 5-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club. When he's not working, he's busy chasing his son, Lucas, around the house and enjoying time with family.