Attorneys arrange emergency hearing for ‘Lighthouse Cubans’ after message found in bottle

MIAMI (WSVN) - Just two days after a federal judge’s decision to repatriate the Cuban migrants found on a lighthouse, attorneys held an emergency hearing, after a me ssage sent out to sea was found accusing the Coast Guard of mistreatment.

According to Cuban activist Ramon Saul Sanchez, the Democracy Movement presented an emergency stay in court just two days after a federal judge ordered that the migrants be repatriated to Cuba. On Tuesday, officials with the U.S. Coast Guard released a statement that read, “The judges ruled that the Cuban migrants who sought refuge on American Shoal Light are ‘feet wet’ and will be processed for repatriation in accordance with standard U.S. immigration policy.”

In court, Thursday, attorneys of the migrants requested more time, asked for a hearing on the matter and also asked for an opportunity to speak with the migrants. So far, none of this has been done.

Sanchez told 7News they are also requesting an investigation because they have information that the Cuban migrants may have been abused on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter.

On Wednesday, a letter sealed in a bottle was found by a fisherman in international waters. “What’s interesting is the big S.O.S. you see right here,” said Kendall Coffey, an attorney for the migrants.

The letter read in part, “We are 24 people, two women, one is very sick, we have been sleeping on the floor for 37 days, we have been fed dog food, they have mistreated us with violence and some of us are suffering mentally; this is hell.”

“We got a call from the Coast Guard yesterday about 3 or 4 p.m., sometime in the afternoon, saying that they had found a bottle with a message inside from the rafters on board the cutter,” said Sanchez. “There they said that they are being mistreated and that there is a very sick woman on board and other issues, and this morning we are asking the government to not repatriate these people and to leave them here until we can find out what happened. They said they have launched an independent investigation, and we welcome that.”

In response to this letter, the U.S. Coast Guard released a statement, Thursday morning, which stated, “This was a very challenging situation for both the migrants and our Coast Guard crews as their case was adjudicated. The migrants were afforded the most comfortable conditions possible given the extenuating circumstances. All migrants receive food, water, clothing and medical care while on board our cutters. Safety of life at sea, regardless of nationality, is the Coast Guard’s primary concern.”

The migrants were found on the lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key on May 20 and were living on a Coast Guard cutter since then. A debate ensued over whether that lighthouse actually qualifies as land under the wet-foot, dry-foot policy. In this case, a judge ruled that it did not.

A family member of one the migrants spoke to 7News. “Very sad, losing all the hope,” said Fernando Alvarez.

Alvarez is fearful that the migrants will face retaliation upon their return to Cuba. “They are in the news, and they are showing the reality of Cuba basically, and they don’t like that.”

A decision on whether the judge will consider the defense from the legal team representing the migrants may be made Friday afternoon.

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