The U.S. Coast Guard announced the return of 27 Cuban refugees to the communist country on Tuesday, caught attempting to navigate to Florida on two separate vessels.
The slightly over two dozen people are believed to be the first large group of balseros, or rafters, caught attempting to enter the United States in this manner since the July 11 protests. On that day, thousands of Cubans marched in the streets of dozens of municipalities nationwide and every major city on the island, demanding an end to 62 years of communist rule. The protests triggered a wave of state-sponsored violence including public beatings, police opening fire on unarmed civilians, and the imprisonment and threatening of minors.
The Coast Guard did not provide the identity of those repatriated, but Cubans with known anti-communist sentiments can face legal repercussions for attempting to leave the country without Communist Party permission. Cubans with higher education, especially doctors trapped in the nation’s healthcare slavery system, may also face severe criminal liability if returned home. Cuba has regularly denied high-profile independent journalists and activists permission to travel abroad.
In a statement, the Coast Guard confirmed that it had intercepted “a 21-foot vessel with 22 people aboard” on Friday and since repatriated those on board. On Saturday, Coast Guard officials identified a “makeshift raft with five people aboard,” both vessels nearing Key West, Florida. All individuals repatriated were reported “in good health.”
The administration of President Joe Biden has taken a stern tone against Cuban refugees seeking to enter Florida and anyone seeking to help them.
“The time is never right to attempt migration by sea. To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas warned shortly after the July 11 anti-communist protests. “Allow me to be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.”
The Coast Guard has also turned its warnings against American citizens who may encounter Cubans on the high seas, warning that anyone helping a Cuban refugee would “violate U.S. immigration laws” and could face up to five years in prison.
“Vessels and persons illegally entering Cuban territorial waters … 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,” the Coast Guard asserted in a statement following the organization of a support flotilla to the Straits of Florida by Cuban-Americans. “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.”
The Biden policy is an extension of the strict anti-Cuban refugee policies imposed by President Barack Obama after his visit with Cuban dictator Raúl Castro in 2016. Obama repealed the longstanding “wet foot/dry foot” policy that allowed Cubans to remain in the United States legally if making landfall here. Prior to that, stricter Coast Guard surveillance led to a trend of refugees packing bleach on their trips to Florida and immediately drinking it if spotted by the Coast Guard — forcing officials to rapidly bring them to medical facilities, where they could claim “dry foot” status.
The Obama years — largely due to an emboldened Castro regime as a result of concessions Washington made to Castro at the time — ended with some of the largest numbers of Cuban refugees intercepted in the Straits of Florida in recent memory. According to the Coast Guard’s statement on the migrants repatriated this week, the agency interdicted 5,396 Cubans in the 2016 fiscal year. In fiscal year 2020, the last of President Donald Trump’s term, that number was 49.
The strict policies towards maritime refugees in the Biden era contrasts significantly with statistics from America’s southern land border. The Biden administration welcomed over 600,000 migrants to the United States through the southern border between Biden’s inauguration and last week, not counting migrants passing illegally and thus undocumented in statistics. The increase was particularly stark in migrants not from Mexico or the Central American “northern triangle” — according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the number of people not from those regions caught attempting to cross the border illegally grew by a factor of ten between January and June 2021.
Local journalists in southern border states have documented people walking into the country, taking Border Patrol buses to government facilities.
More groups of migrants walking through the border fence here in Del Rio where they are loaded into waiting border patrol buses. Most of these men are from Haiti. Border Patrol has several buses and vans here to deal with this massive group that started out 350+ in size @FoxNews pic.twitter.com/BIC9vhEkYv
— Bill Melugin (@BillFOXLA) July 25, 2021
“We are seeing a crush on the southern border that’s a rotating catastrophe. It continues to escalate on a daily basis, and it was all caused by the rhetoric of Biden during the campaign and the actions he took in the first days of his administration,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) noted in an interview this week.
“They didn’t say what they said to Cubans in those first days. What they said is no border wall, and children and families will not be separated … we are incentivizing.”