MIGRANT LANDINGS DOMINATE HEADLINES IN 2022

A massive influx of Cuban and Haitian migrants dominated the headlines in the Florida Keys and South Florida and 2022 (and that’ll likely continue going into the new year). Between the economic despair, violence and oppression, men, women and children scurried from their homes onto homemade vessels — some dilapidated and not suitable to deal with the ocean’s rage and unpredictable weather — in hopes for brighter futures in the U.S. Not all have made it to land successfully. And those who’ve arrived have been met by the Coast Guard, U.S. Customs & Border Protection and local authorities. From the heart-pounding rescues to the scenes of hundreds of migrants detained on land, here are some of the bigger stories that made it into print. 

Cuban refugees arrive at Smathers Beach by boat in early October. MARK HEDDEN/Keys Weekly

MIGRANT LANDING OFF SOMBRERO BEACH ROAD PROMPTS SCHOOL LOCKDOWN

A chug carrying 15 Cuban immigrants reached the shores of Marathon near the Sunrise Isle area of Sombrero Beach Road on Jan. 4. Although all 15 migrants were soon detained by authorities, there was an initial belief that a few of the migrants had traveled across Man-O-War Drive and entered the mangroves surrounding Marathon Middle and High School. 

In response, the school underwent a temporary precautionary lockdown to allow officials to search the area. “Our students are not in harm’s way,” said principal Wendy McPherson in a memo to parents. “Classes are being held in place until law enforcement has found all of the individuals. We expect the situation to be resolved soon.”

After reviewing footage taken by residents in the Sombrero Beach Road area, it was eventually determined that all migrants known to have come ashore were accounted for, and the lockdown was released shortly thereafter. Migrants were taken into Customs & Border Protection (CBP) custody. It’s unknown whether they were sent back to Cuba or were released to family. 

MORE THAN 100 HAITIANS REACH SHORE OF A PRIVATE SUMMERLAND KEY RESIDENCE

A little more than 120 Haitian migrants hopped off a vessel and made their way onto land via a Summerland Key residence’s beach on the morning of March 14. U.S. Customs & Border Protection agents and the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the scene at a private property beach where the migrants were landing. A local resident notified law enforcement that a suspected migrant vessel was about to run aground with around 100 people on board.  Eventually, the dilapidated vessel ran aground near a residential shoreline on Summerland Key. CBP said migrants onboard the vessel jumped off and safely swam ashore. Law enforcement responding immediately were able to secure the area without further incident and render first aid to migrants who were dehydrated. The group — totaling 123 — told officials that they had left La Tortue Island in Haiti on March. 9. Migrants were transported to Marathon and Dania Beach Border Patrol Stations for further processing and were turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

EASTERN EUROPEANS ARRIVE ON BOAT FROM CUBA
Police and government vehicles filled the plaza at the top of Duval Street on April 3 after a fishing boat pulled up to the pier there and dropped off a dozen or so Eastern Europeans who said they had been in Cuba. The Keys Weekly spoke briefly with one of the Eastern Europeans, all of whom were seated at tables inside the Southernmost Beach Cafe with luggage and duffel bags next to them. They were well dressed and their clothes were not wet as if they had waded ashore. Most had smartphones they were using while awaiting further instructions. One man told the Keys Weekly they were from Uzbekistan and former Soviet republics. It’s unknown whether they were sent back to their home countries or remained in the U.S. 

PACKED BOAT WITH 300 HAITIANS RUNS AGROUND OFF NORTH KEY LARGO

In one of the largest migrant landings seen in the Keys in 2022, a sailboat packed with more than 300 Haitian men, women and children grounded near North Key Largo’s Ocean Reef Club on Aug. 6.

A total of 113 migrants hopped off the vessel and made it to land at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club in North Key Largo. But 220 migrants remained on the boat. A swift rescue ensued by the U.S. Coast Guard as many migrants were in the water without life jackets. Migrants making it to land were in U.S Customs & Border Protection’s custody. They subsequently went through removal proceedings. Those who were boarded on a Coast Guard cutter were sent back to Haiti. 

123 HAITIAN MIGRANTS REACH LAND IN MARATHON

The Florida Keys experienced yet another large migrant landing in less than three days, as a sailboat carrying a total of 123 Haitian migrants ran aground offshore in the area of 79th Street Ocean in Marathon on Aug. 8. Of the migrants on board, 109 entered the water, making the swim to land before they were eventually apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in a multi-agency collaboration with Florida Fish & Wildlife, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard. Fourteen migrants who remained aboard the vessel were taken into custody of the Coast Guard for repatriation. The rest went through removal proceedings. 

INTENSE RESCUE ENSUES AFTER CUBAN VESSEL WITH 30 MIGRANTS SINKS OFF STOCK ISLAND

A search and rescue effort by the U.S. Coast Guard ensued after a vessel carrying roughly 30 Cuban migrants sank not far from Stock Island. U.S. Customs & Border Protection Chief Patrol Agent Walter Slosar said his agents and Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the migrant landing around 1 p.m. on Sept. 28. Four migrants swam to shore after their vessel sank due to inclement weather. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard initiated a search and rescue operation to locate 23 other migrants. Not all were successfully rescued, as the Coast Guard reported that they found one deceased person near Ocean Edge Marina. It’s unknown whether the remaining migrants who made it to land and successfully rescued were sent back to Cuba. 

RESCUERS BATTLE ROUGH WATERS TO RESCUE 190 HAITIANS 

An overloaded 50-foot vessel initially sighted in Key Largo carrying a large number of Haitian migrants on rough waters ran aground at the sandbar south of Whale Harbor in Islamorada around 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 21. Eighteen people were found in the water as multiple agencies rushed to rescue them from dangerous ocean currents.  

The vessel carrying the migrants was spotted off the shores of Key Largo during the early morning hours of Nov. 21. The rescue effort by the Coast Guard started after a good samaritan contacted Sector Key West around 5 a.m.

On Nov. 26, the 180 on the sailboat, 89 men, 55 women and 46 women were sent back via a Coast Guard Cutter. Ten people onboard the vessel were going through a joint interagency process. On Nov. 29, the Coast Guard said seven people were repatriated and three were transferred back to U.S. officials. 

Coast Guard interdictions of Cubans

  • 6,182 in Fiscal Year 2022
  • 838 in Fiscal Year 2021
  • 49 in Fiscal Year 2020
  • 313 Fiscal Year 2019
  • 259 in Fiscal Year 2018

Coast Guard interdictions of Haitians

  • 7,175 in Fiscal Year 2022
  • 1,527 in Fiscal Year 2021
  • 418 in Fiscal Year 2020
  • 932 in Fiscal Year 2019
  • 609 in Fiscal Year 2018
Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers 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 he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus 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. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.