DANIA BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Federal authorities rescued more than 300 Haitian migrants off the coast of Key Largo, as the Florida Keys continue to see a massive influx of Cuban and Haitian migrants trying to reach the coast of South Florida.
According to the U.S. Border Patrol, the Haitian migrants on Saturday were packed into a sailboat that was just over 40 feet long. They were stopped a few miles away from the affluent Ocean Reef Club.
Witness Cuyler Brown took out his cellphone and began recording video after he spotted some of the migrants trying to swim to shore.
“They had to be so excited to see land, to see Ocean Reef. The culture shock must have been amazing for them, to get ashore and to come from such poverty,” he said. “I mean, I don’t think you can have two more distinct areas right now than Haiti and Ocean Reef.”
Saturday’s interdiction is hardly the first time South Florida has seen a mass migration. People are coming in a huge wave, leaving everything behind in the Caribbean and hoping for a better life.
Since October, Border Patrol has stopped 3,739 Cubans and 6,534 Haitians trying to reach South Florida. These numbers are higher than the last five years combined.
In January, close to 200 Haitian migrants risked their lives and arrived on a boat off the coast of Key Largo.
The vessel almost capsized, but all of them were saved and sent back to their home country.
Three months later, about 350 migrants were spotted in the same area of Key Largo. More than 150 of them jumped off the boat in a desperate attempt to make it on shore.
Back in July, 100 or so migrants came ashore off Boca Chita Key. Several of them were taken to the hospital for evaluation, but all were OK and later repatriated.
A picture captured a blue boat washed up on Miami Beach on Sunday. The phrase “To the future without fear” was written on the vessel’s exterior in Spanish, encompassing the hope from migrants who set out on the dangerous trek.
Since Thursday, Border Patrol agents have responded to 16 migrant interceptions in the Florida Keys alone.
Coast Guard and Border Patrol officials said their first mission when they come across these migrants is to ensure everyone on board is safe.
The Haitian migrants on Saturday were dehydrated but OK.
“They don’t bring enough water; the vessel was overloaded. The seas this time of year, the weather changes frequently,” said Border Patrol Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Adam Hoffner.
For others, the dangerous trip on open water has been deadly.
U.S. Coast Guard crews on Friday responded to a capsized boat carrying 15 migrants. Five migrants went missing, and eight were saved. One of them was even rescued by a cruise ship and turned over to Border Patrol.
Sadly, two of the migrants did not survive. The search for the five missing migrants continues this weekend.
Authorities said they’re looking to hold the smugglers who put people in these dangerous situations responsible.
“They have no regard for the lives of any of these migrants,” said Hoffner. “In the interview process [on Saturday], we were able to identify two suspected smugglers involved with this event. We will partner with our Department of Homeland Security Investigations and attempt to prosecute any individuals in any of these cases.”
Of the migrants that arrived on Saturday, investigators said, 113 managed to reach land. They were bussed to a Border Patrol facility in Dania Beach because the one in Monroe County is overloaded. Agents are interviewing the migrants and beginning the process of sending them back to Haiti.
The Coast Guard will repatriate the roughly 200 migrants who stayed on the sailboat.
The U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security were able to identify at least two smugglers from the latest interception, and officials are hoping they are able to prosecute them.
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