FLORIDA KEYS, Fla. — Hours before the sun came up in the Florida Keys Tuesday morning, the response was already in full swing. More than two dozen migrants had made it to the Navy Base in Key West.
The call came in just before 1:30 that morning, and federal officials described it as an unprecedented influx of migrant landings off Florida’s coast.
“There are 25 migrants, all appear to be Cuban, and all appear to be from Havana,” explained Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Adam Hoffner of US Border Patrol, Miami Division.
The men and women waiting to be processed by US Border Patrol ranged in age, appeared exhausted and some weren’t wearing any shoes, perhaps an indicator of their three-day-long journey on the Atlantic.
One 22-year-old woman described it as dangerous and scary.
“The sharks, at some point, were circling the boat,” she said in Spanish. It was the woman’s first attempt at making it to America by boat.
She said she came with her aunt and boyfriend. Members of the group said they paid between 40,000-60,000 pesos or $2,000- $3,000 US dollars to get a spot on the boat.
Another man described how, at one point, they got lost at sea and encountered a storm. He had to be seen by medics in the Keys because he cut his hand by simply holding on to the homemade boat they couldn’t completely control.
“As a matter of fact, if they let go of the handle, they were unable to stop it,” Hoffner said.
Once the migrants got off the boat, they said the boat sped off and ended up going in circles. Officials found the rigged-out boat crashed against another vessel.
The scene of migrants landing in the Florida Keys exhausted, hungry and desperate has become a daily occurrence. As of Tuesday, US Border Patrol reported approximately 450 migrant encounters and 32 separate landings just since October 1.
The surge, Hoffner said, represents a 450% increase from October of 2021.
“In just the last 24 hours, we’ve responded to 11 different migrant landings throughout the Florida Keys,” Hoffner said.
When asked why the influx, Hoffner explained it could be several reasons, but migrants often describe dire economic conditions in Cuba and the lack of basic human services as primary reasons they are willing to risk their lives to escape to America.
The dramatic increase in migrant encounters is taxing resources on land and in the air. US Border Patrol and Air and Marine Operations in Florida are having to utilize agents from other parts of the country.
“It’s the heaviest migrant traffic I’ve ever encountered,” said Marine Interdiction Agent John Apollony, who has been stationed in the Keys with the Air and Marine Operation team since 2015.
Apollony and his team interdicted 12 Cuban migrants on Tuesday afternoon, who said they had been traveling on the high seas for eight days.
By the time they were intercepted by US Coast Guard and the Air and Marine Operation team, they were approximately 15 miles from land. All 12 on board will be sent back to Cuba.
Their boat was another handmade, barely operable vessel, but one the migrants used in a desperate attempt at reaching freedom.
Most boats carrying migrants recently have been rustic, homemade boats that are barely held together with random materials. Officials warn that in addition to coming into the country illegally, migrants making the trek are risking their lives by getting into boats that aren’t suitable for water, let alone carrying any person in one.
When asked why they risked their lives to come to Florida, the group of men and women from Cuba shouted in Spanish, “there’s nothing in Cuba. Cuba has nothing.”