More Cubans are risking their lives to reach US shores despite the thawing relationship between the two countries. According to the US Coast Guard, 4,084 Cubans attempted to enter the United States illegally by sea this year alone.
“These numbers represent the total number of at-sea interdictions, landings and disruptions in the Florida Straits, the Caribbean and Atlantic,” the Coast Guard stated in a press release.
The US deports them back to their country soon after it picks them up in the seas. The coastguard said 116 Cubans caught at sea were repatriated to the island nation last week.
In the 2014 fiscal year, 3,940 Cubans attempted to reach the U.S. by sea, often on crude rafts or overcrowded boats, up from 2,129 in the same period in 2013 and 1,082 in 2010, according to coastguard figures.
“Coast Guard missions and operations in the Southeast remain unchanged. The Coast Guard strongly discourages attempts to illegally enter the country by taking to the sea,” said Capt. Mark Gordon, Coast Guard 7th District chief of response enforcement. “These trips are incredibly dangerous.”
Cuba is barely 90 miles (150 kilometers) away from Florida, but the waters on this route are reportedly infested with sharks.
With the US talking of further improving its relationship with the communist island, many Cubans fear that the US could soon end the so-called “wet-foot dry-foot” policy, which gives preferential immigration status to Cubans who set foot on American soil.
Those who set foot on the US are allowed to stay, but those intercepted at sea are repatriated. This, some analysts say, could be the primary reason why there has been a sudden upsurge in Cubans trying to enter the United States.
When the US Treasury Department issued licenses for some firms willing to run ferry service between the two countries, some analysts warned that U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff might have difficulty in apprehending immigrants trying to sneak into U.S. territory illegally. They argued that monitoring ferries might prove more difficult than monitoring charter flights.