16 attempted immigrants intercepted aboard chug near Key West, repatriated to Cuba

U.S. Coast Guard ship moored in the Port of Duluth.  Duluth Minnesota MN USA
Authorities transported them to a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, which repatriated them to Cuba.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), United States Coast Guard and Monroe Sheriff’s Office intercepted 16 Cubans attempting to make U.S. landfall aboard a chug three miles south of Fort Zachary Taylor Park in Key West.

FWC officers Paris Winter and Rianna Sargent and Monroe deputies responded to reports from partners working with Operation Vigilant Sentry, a Department of Homeland Security program first approved in 2004.

After intercepting the chug — a type of boat refugees frequently used that is named for the “chug-chug” sound of its engine — authorities transported its occupants to a Coast Guard vessel, which repatriated them to Cuba.

“In response to heightened concerns regarding illegal immigration in South Florida and the Florida Keys, FWC officers have intensified their vigilance and surveillance efforts,” the FWC said. “Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ directive, 23 additional officers and eight more seacraft have been deployed to reinforce the existing presence in the region.”

South Florida early this year saw many immigrant arrivals by boat. Coast Guard officials attributed the rise to “false assumptions” that there would be fewer patrols over the holidays.

In late December, the federal government shut down Dry Tortugas National Park south of Key West due to a massive influx of immigrants. Afterward, the DeSantis administration and President Joe Biden’s administration ordered more resources to handle the issue.

Since the New Year, the Coast Guard reported repatriating more than 100 Cuban migrants trying to escape awful conditions at home, including an alarming shortage of food, medicine and fuel that sparked ongoing protests.

Close to 4,000 people tried to make the trip between October 2022 and January 2023.

“Thousands of Cubans have taken to the streets again to protest the murderous Castro dictatorship and demand freedom, power, and food,” said U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez, the former Mayor of Miami-Dade County, which boasts the largest Cuban population in the country.

“In response, the regime shut down the internet to prevent protesters from organizing and mobilized its secret police to brutalize and jail the opposition. Today, over 1,000 brave men and women are being jailed unjustly for exercising their basic human rights. After 64 years of tyranny, the Cuban people want to be free. I’m calling on the Biden Administration to do the right thing and provide the island of Cuba with satellite internet to stop the repression of the dictatorial regime.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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