MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Nineteen Cuban migrants are being kept at sea, hours after, Coast Guard officials said, they swam away from their boat and climbed onto a lighthouse several miles off Sugarloaf Key, Friday.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, at around 8:30 a.m., a good Samaritan spotted the migrants at sea. When the Coast Guard showed up, the migrants jumped off their homemade vessel and swam toward the American Shoal Lighthouse, located seven miles off Sugarloaf Key, just north of Key West.
Friday afternoon, 7Skyforce hovered above the 109-foot iron tower, which sits in the sea by itself, as the migrants stood on the top portion. After the Coast Guard established a safety zone around the lighthouse, one of the men climbed down the ladder to speak with agents. Coast Guard officials then began transferring the migrants onto a boat one by one, and they supplied life jackets and water to those still on the tower.
The incident brings into question the Wet Foot, Dry Foot policy, which allows Cubans to stay in the United States if they reach U.S. soil. It is unclear whether or not the lighthouse would be considered land under the policy.
Officials later told 7News all 19 migrants will go through the main process, but it remains to be seen whether they will be able to stay in the U.S.
Friday night, a small group of protesters showed up at the Coast Guard Station Miami Beach urging officials to let the migrants stay.
“Our position is that these Cubans are ‘dry foot’ under the ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ policy,” said Cuban activist Ramon Saul Sanchez.
Sanchez added, “The lighthouse structure is part of the United States. It’s a U.S. platform, continental platform, and also the name, even the name, is ‘American.'”
The American Shoal Lighthouse was built in 1880 and stands in water that runs 10 foot deep on a reef.
Friday’s incident comes 10 years after a group of Cubans landed on the old Seven Mile Bridge, which was also not connected to land. A judge, however, ruled it was still U.S. soil.
Attorney Wilfredo Allen worked on the 2006 case. “Judge Moreno, who, I thought, in his decision, obviously, I thought it was brilliant because it came our way, he said that the bridge was part of the United States, as apple pie with vanilla ice cream,” he said.
As of 11 p.m., the migrants who swam to the lighthouse remained on board a cutter at sea as the Coast Guard determines their fate. Two other migrants who remained on the boat were also taken to the cutter.
The Coast Guard said a decision on what they will do with these migrants should come sometime early next week.
Activists told 7News they will go to court if the migrants are in danger of being sent back to the island.
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