A remote group of islands and a national park off the coast of Key West, Florida, were closed on Monday after a boatload of about 300 migrants landed there.
The Dry Tortugas National Park is a group of mostly uninhabited islands about 100 miles north of Havana. It is known for its clear water and coral reefs. But in the last few days, the islands have become a different kind of safe place.
Local and federal authorities say that over 160 more migrants have arrived in other parts of the Florida Keys over the past few days. This is in addition to the 300 migrants who arrived on the archipelago. In a statement, the officials didn’t say where the people came from, but they did say that the park and surrounding area had recently “seen an increase in people coming by boat from Cuba.”
The government says the influx of migrants started on New Year’s Eve and comes at a time when there is a lot of migration by sea. In the year that ended in September, the United States Coast Guard caught more than 6,000 Cubans. This is compared to the year before when they only caught about 840 migrants.
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Park officials said the archipelago would be closed temporarily starting at 8 a.m. on Monday so that authorities and medical workers could check on the migrants, treat them, and take them to Key West, Fla. They also said that the park’s own first responders would help the migrants until the Department of Homeland Security arrived by giving them food, water, and basic medical care.
During the past 72 hours, #BorderPatrol agents have responded to a high volume of migrant landings in the #FloridaKeys. There is an increased presence of law enforcement & first responders in the area. We appreciate the ongoing support from all of our LE partners. #news pic.twitter.com/Q4wK4YOBO6
— Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar (@USBPChiefMIP) January 2, 2023
Lt. Cmdr. John Beal, a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s Seventh District, said of the migrants, “The goal now is to get them off the island by boat and onto the mainland in Key West and the Florida Keys, where they can then be handed over to federal law enforcement.”
“They are uninhabited, remote islands that don’t have the infrastructure to support them,” he said, adding that local, state, and federal authorities were working together to get food and water to the archipelago, which is usually only staffed by a few rangers.
The federal government said that the migrants would be taken off the islands and checked to see if they were allowed to stay in the United States or if they should be sent back to their home country.
𝙉𝙚𝙬 𝙔𝙚𝙖𝙧’𝙨 𝘿𝙖𝙮 𝙞𝙣 𝙁𝙡𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙙𝙖:
Over 160 migrants have been encountered today in the #Florida Keys. Border Patrol agents with support from federal, state, and local LE partners responded to 10 migrant landings since midnight. #Breaking_News #NewYear #NewYear2023 pic.twitter.com/Q4KkGqhduI
— Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar (@USBPChiefMIP) January 1, 2023
The influx of migrants over the weekend was called a “mass migration crisis” by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, which is in charge of the Florida Keys and their islands. The office said that the federal government was slow to respond, even though in some cases they were not expected to arrive until the next day. In a statement posted to Facebook on Monday, the sheriff’s office said, “This federal failure is making a humanitarian crisis.”
Officials said that the park would likely be closed for a few days. They said this was “necessary for the safety of visitors and staff because of the resources and space needed to help the migrants.”
Sheriff’s Office assists federal law enforcement during weekend spike in refugee arrivals in the Keys: https://t.co/RmY672b0bj
— Florida Keys Sheriff (@mcsonews) January 2, 2023
Officials from the park said that all closures would “stay in place until further notice,” and that all ferries and seaplanes would stop running during that time.
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Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.