MIAMI (AP) – The number of Cuban migrants trying to reach U.S. soil began surging when the United States announced it was resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba.
But officials with the U.S. Coast Guard’s 7th District said they’re not gearing up for any immediate, large-scale migration from the island nation only 90 miles from Key West following the announcement that Fidel Castro died on Friday night.
“We’re going to continue doing the job we’ve been doing,” Petty Officer Jonathan Lally said Saturday morning. He said that includes routine patrols in the Florida Straits.
Earlier this week, the Coast Guard estimated that 598 Cubans have attempted to illegally migrate to the United States since Oct. 1. During fiscal year 2016, 7,411 Cubans have attempted to “illegally migrate via the sea” compared to 4,473 in fiscal year 2015. The numbers represent the number of Cuban migrants who were captured, intercepted or chased away by the Coast Guard.
Coast Guard officials say the increase in Cuban migrants was prompted by rumor that the so-called wet foot-dry foot policy, which usually shields Cubans from deportation if they reach U.S. shore, might end.
Since 1966, the Cuban Adjustment Act has virtually guaranteed path to legal residency and eventual citizenship. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have taken perilous raft trips to Florida and land journeys through Central America and Mexico with the knowledge that they would not be deported.
On Saturday, officials in Monroe County, Florida – home to Key West – said they’re monitoring the situation in Cuba following Castro’s death. Emergency Management Director Marty Senterfitt said so far there are no indications of mass migration and no expectation that they will occur.
In neighboring Miami-Dade County – with its large Cuban-American community – Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez said he has no plans to activate the emergency operations center.