MIAMI – Cuban migrants desperate to reach U.S. shore are increasingly violent and noncompliant with Coast Guard crews who detain them at sea, authorities said Wednesday, citing reports of attempted poisoning and self-inflicted wounds as rumors swirl that the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy will soon be abandoned.
U.S. immigration policies haven’t changed since President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington in December 2014, and for over a year the Coast Guard has warned migrants and their relatives in the U.S. that no change is imminent.
But an ongoing surge in Cubans fleeing their homeland by sea is fueled by fears they soon will lose the “wet-foot, dry-foot” benefits that allow those reaching U.S. land to stay and pursue citizenship, according to the chief of response for the Coast Guard’s 7th District in Miami.
Security has been increased for Cuban migrants aboard Coast Guard vessels because more are jumping overboard, trying to poison themselves or suffering self-inflicted wounds in frantic attempts to be taken to U.S. shore for treatment, Capt. Mark Fedor said.
“It’s been a dangerous uptick. The last six months, it’s come to a head,” Fedor said.
According to a Coast Guard tally provided to The Associated Press, compiled from crew reports of migrant hostility over the last six months, several makeshift vessels carrying a dozen or more Cuban migrants refused to stop for U.S. authorities, leading them on slow pursuits for hours before surrendering.
Aboard Coast Guard vessels, all migrants receive food, shelter and medical care before they’re returned to their homelands. Other migrants are deported if they reach land, but Cubans are allowed to remain in the U.S.; Cubans caught at sea are taken back to the communist island.
Along with a general increase in migrant traffic through the Caribbean toward Florida over the past couple of years, the Coast Guard has recorded a significant spike in the number of Cubans attempting the risky sea voyage since December 2014.
Since Oct. 1, U.S. authorities say they have captured, intercepted or chased away over 1,980 Cuban migrants. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 4,473 Cuban migrants were kept from reaching U.S. shores, an increase over the 3,737 in the 2014 fiscal year and 2,218 in 2013.
This month alone, U.S. authorities say they have encountered 435 Cuban migrants, compared with 355 in January 2015 and 240 in the previous January.