MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - The fate of 19 Cuban migrants who climbed onto a lighthouse off the Florida Keys after the U.S. Coast Guard spotted them remains unclear, even as a key figure in South Florida’s Cuban exile community prepares to take measures to prevent their repatriation.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, a Good Samaritan spotted the migrants at sea, Friday, at around 8:30 a.m. 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.
Alberto Concepcion told 7News that he found out his cousin Liban was one of those migrants by watching Friday’s 7Skyforce video. He even put part of the footage on his smartphone. “I see yesterday, in television, my family,” he said.
Friday afternoon, Coast Guard officials then began transferring the migrants onto a boat one by one. Two other migrants who were not among the ones who climbed onto the lighthouse swam to a Coast Guard boat.
The incident brings into question the Wet Foot, Dry Foot policy that allows Cubans to stay in the United States if they reach U.S. soil. It is unclear whether or not the 109-foot lighthouse, which sits in the sea by itself, would be considered land under the policy.
“I think they are on American land. It is part if the United States,” said Concepcion through a translator.
Activist Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the Cuba Democracy Movement in Little Havana, is gathering the names of those who scaled the iron tower, should he have to go to court. He plans to argue the lighthouse is U.S. soil, and the Cubans shouldn’t be sent back to the communist island. “We are desperately trying to get all the names, trying to talk to the relatives to see if we can expedite a motion in court,” he said, “an injunction or some sort of legal process so we can stop the repatriation.”
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.
The migrants’ families see the Seven Mile Bridge case as a precedent for the new case involving the lighthouse that has put the 19 Cubans in limbo. “I need to see my cousin,” he said.
Saturday night, all 21 migrants are being kept on a Coast Guard cutter at sea. Officials said they will make a determination about their status by early next week.
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