U.S. Boaters Who Help Cubans Face Prison, While Border Crossers Face Few Penalties

People hold Cuban and US flags as they march during a protest showing support for Cubans demonstrating against their government, in Miami, Florida on July 16, 2021. - Unprecedented anti-government protests broke out in Cuba on July 11, which the single-party state leadership blames on a Twitter campaign orchestrated by …
EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is threatening to arrest, incarcerate, impose excessive fines, and even take the vessels of boaters who help U.S.-bound Cubans flee the repression and economic suffering at the hands of the island nation’s communist regime.

On Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), a component of DHS, issued an advisory to boaters who help Cubans reach the United States, saying it is illegal for vessels to travel to Cuba for any purpose without a permit.

The advisory warned:

Vessels and persons illegally entering Cuban territorial waters or getting underway or departing from U.S. territorial waters with the intention of entering Cuban TTW without the required permit may be subject to seizure of their vessel, civil and criminal penalties up to $25,000 per day, and 10 years in prison.

People who violate U.S. immigration laws and illegally bring foreign nationals into the country or who attempt to do so may be subject to arrest, vessel forfeiture, civil and criminal fines up to $250,000 per day, and five years in prison.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has relaxed security at the U.S.-Mexico border — revoking most of his predecessor’s measures — which Republicans and other critics blame for the record surge of migrants reaching the United States from the south in recent months.

President Joe Biden kept the Trump-era pandemic control protocol (Title 42) that allows border authorities to quickly deport any migrant to stem the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.

However, his administration has watered it down, allowing exemptions to many migrants.

Moreover, migrants removed under Title 42 are not subject to traditional penalties for reentry, such as felony charges and jail time, allowing them to make as many crossing attempts as it takes to enter the U.S.

The Biden administration has made it easier for deported migrants from outside Mexico to keep trying by no longer flying them to their home countries thousands of miles away from the border.

In Cuba, forces loyal to the authoritarian regime are cracking down on historic anti-communism protests triggered by the poor economic conditions in the country.

On Tuesday, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged the development would likely lead to increases in maritime migration by Cubans seeking to flee their country by any means, including on unauthorized vessels coming from Florida.

Nevertheless, he indicated that Cubans who try to enter the U.S. illegally by sea would not be allowed to stay.

In prepared remarks delivered during a press briefing Tuesday, Mayorkas declared:

The time is never right to attempt migration by sea. To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking. Allow me to be clear: if you take to the Sea, you will not come to the United States. … I repeat: do not risk your life attempting to enter the United States illegally. You will not come to the United States.

In 2017, the Obama-Biden administration ended the decades-old Cuban refugee policy, dubbed “Wet Foot, Dry Foot.” It allowed Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay and become voting citizens.

Many Cubans in the United States have strongly identified with or leaned toward the Republican Party for decades.

Two of the top 2016 Republican presidential candidates — Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas — are Cuban-Americans.

Now, most Cubans have to sneak across the U.S. border or claim asylum once they reach an official port of entry like many other Latin Americans.

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