Cubans and Haitians Are Fleeing to the U.S. in Staggering Numbers
MIAMI—Over 300 Cuban and Haitian migrants recently landed at Dry Tortugas National Park, a remote protected archipelago located over 60 miles from Key West, Florida. National Park Service personnel at the site were overwhelmed during New Year’s weekend and closed the park. Another 606 migrants were stopped at sea from reaching the national park by federal law enforcement officials and were repatriated by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Homeland Security Task Force-Southeast stated on January 4 that all the migrants were removed from the park and sent to a facility in Key West for further processing. Dry Tortugas National Park reopened on Sunday to the public.
The reopening marks the end of one of the most dramatic episodes in the ongoing migration crisis, as authorities in Florida and at the U.S.-Mexico border contend with an unprecedented wave of migration from Cuba. More Cubans have arrived in the U.S. in the last year than did in the 1980 Mariel boatlift and the 1994 Balsero crisis, as the communist nation struggles with economic downturns and growing political dissatisfaction with its governing class.
Border crossings by Cuban migrants have reached an all-time high: Over 220,000 Cubans attempted to cross the southern border illegally from December 2021 to December 2022, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Migrants are also making their way to the U.S. by sea. Since October, the Coast Guard has intercepted 3,700 Cubans at sea, already more than half than were intercepted in the previous 11 months.
For over six years, Cubans on the island could not apply for asylum or exit visas at the U.S. embassy in Havana after the Trump administration closed the embassy’s visa operations. This forced Cubans to travel to Guyana, one of the few countries Cubans are allowed to visit, to apply for asylum, an expensive and inaccessible process for many on the island. Cubans would no longer be automatically allowed to stay and pursue residency if they reached U.S. territory, as was the case before the Obama administration ended the “Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot” policy in 2017. So the suspension of visa services in Havana drove many to risk the voyage across the Straits of Florida or through Central America to the southern border, usually with the help of smugglers.
An increased number of Haitians have also fled their country, attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border amid ongoing gang violence, disease outbreaks, and political instability that has worsened in recent months. The limited opportunities for requesting asylum beyond the border and new restrictions on Haitian immigration in countries like Brazil and Chile have prompted many to take the risks as well.
These arrivals have contributed to the broader crisis at the border. U.S. border authorities reported over 2 million migrant encounters in FY 2022. Many migrants came anticipating the end of Title 42, a pandemic-era measure implemented by the Trump administration that granted the federal government sweeping authority to immediately remove migrants upon their entry into the country.
Officials in Florida criticized the federal government for its delayed response to the migrant arrivals, with teams from the
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