11 Cuban migrants intercepted near Key Biscayne

KEY BISCAYNE, FLA. (WSVN) - A group of migrants have been intercepted at sea, near Key Biscayne.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, officials received a call about a group of roughly 11 Cuban migrants on a small vessel in the ocean, near the Cape Florida Lighthouse, at around 2 p.m., Thursday.

However, according to reports, they were not complying with officials. Therefore, multiple agencies were called to the scene.

By 2:15 p.m., U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Homeland Security and Miami-Dade Police boats had surrounded the small vessel carrying the migrants.

Under protocol, U.S. Customs and Border Control officers surrounded the vessel with guns drawn on the migrants. One of these guns discharged multiple tear gas or pepper spray canisters (both non-lethal irritants) at the small vessel, which ricocheted inside the small vessel once they landed.

According to 7 SkyForce HD reporter Ralph Rayburn, tear gas is the first step in order to try to get the migrants on board to comply with authorities’ orders.

Once the tear gas was administered, the migrants surrendered, with some of the migrants even raising their hands in the air.

The weapons were holstered back into place only after all migrants had visibly placed their hands over their heads. “And, often times, we see this where they refuse to stop for the Coast Guard, where they refuse to take life jackets from the Coast Guard,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Gabe Somma. “Eventually, we did get compliance from these migrants.”

Officials said initial reports indicated there were weapons on the ship. However, it is unclear if weapons were actually recovered. “These are desperate people trying to reach the U.S. mainland,” Somma said. “Initial reports are they had weapons on board — knives and machetes.”

Once the migrants complied, officials docked right beside the migrants and passed them lifejackets. Officials helped the migrants put them on and they were brought aboard the Coast Guard boat, one by one.

Cuban Activist Ramon Saul Sanchez is concerned that the methods used to subdue the migrants may have been excessive. “We are also concerned that the government agents — were they Coast Guard or Customs or whoever — does not attempt to keep these people in Wet Foot by utilizing rubber bullets or some other kind of device, just for the purpose of not allowing them to get to land. I think that’s legally questionable.”

By 4 p.m., the 11 migrants were safely transported to the U.S. Coast Guard station on Miami Beach.

The migrants were about two miles away from Bill Baggs State Park before the boats surrounded them.

Under the “wet-foot, dry-foot policy,” the migrants will not be granted U.S. citizenship. “They’ll be processed in accordance to the U.S. immigration law,” said Somma. “In most situations like this, they will likely be returned to their country of origin.”

An official has reported that around 44,000 Cuban migrants have traveled to the country since January. “All too often, you see these migrants coming here in un-seaworthy vessels,” Somma said. “There’s no life-saving equipment on board. It’s really a tragedy waiting to happen.”

The Coast Guard said the group is currently on board a Coast Guard cutter, and no one was injured.

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