Florida

Coast Guard Dealing With an Influx of Cuban Rafters

The shoreline of Florida has long been the goal for the desperate, whether they’re coming from Haiti or Cuba

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The shoreline of Florida has long been the goal for the desperate, whether they’re coming from Haiti or Cuba.

Even though the "Wet Foot, Dry Foot" policy for Cubans was eliminated in 2017, there’s been a major uptick in rafters leaving Cuba, trying to reach the United States.

So far this fiscal year, which began last October, the U.S. Coast Guard says it has intercepted 67 Cuban rafters in the waters off Florida. They stopped 49 Cuban rafters in all of the last fiscal year. 

To Mayte Greco, the influx feels like a familiar surge. She’s one of founders of Brothers to the Rescue, a pilot who used to fly over the Straits of Florida back in the 1990’s, searching for rafters. 

“Well definitely in the last few days we’ve had big groups that have come here, I’m still shocked, one of them said they’ve been at sea for 16 days in a makeshift raft with inner tubes,” Greco said. 

Footage from the Martin County Sheriff's Office shows a homemade vessel carrying Cubans capsizing off Florida's coast.

Those are the types of people Greco and her colleagues would spot from the air and then notify the Coast Guard to bring them to safety. These days the group doesn’t fly those missions anymore, but its members have been talking about the current situation. 

“We wonder, why are they coming, it’s so risky, they know the past, the chances of making it are so slim, but still they come, and we think it’s that fire that some people have that says 'hey, I’m gonna get on an inner tube and I’m gonna cross the ocean and see what happens, but I can’t live like this anymore,'" Greco said. 

Her group’s theory is that more Cubans are risking their lives to get here now because they’re assuming changes in federal immigration law are on the horizon.

"I think what’s going on now is that there’s probably gonna be an immigration change with the Biden administration where immigrants are going to be given temporary status and hopefully be able to gain residency here again and people are saying, 'this is my chance to come to the United States and rebuild my future again,'” Greco said.

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