MIAMI — The number of people trying to defect to the United States by sea from Cuba continues to rise, the U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday, despite a detente between the long-time rivals.
The coastguard estimates that 4,084 Cubans “attempted to illegally migrate via the sea” already in fiscal year 2015, which has three weeks remaining. This continues increases seen in each of the past several years.
Cuban migrants, unlike those from any other nation, are allowed to stay in the United States if they reach land, but they are repatriated if picked up at sea.
The coastguard said 116 Cubans caught at sea were repatriated to the island nation this week.
Fear that this special treatment will end has triggered an increase in attempted crossings since Washington and Havana announced in December plans to restore diplomatic ties, which they did on July 20.
In fiscal year 2014, 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.
The numbers represent “the total amount of at-sea interdictions, landings and disruptions in the Florida Straits, the Caribbean and Atlantic,” the coastguard said.
Cuba is about 90 miles (150 kilometers) across shark-infested waters from the southernmost part of Florida.
“The coastguard strongly discourages attempts to illegally enter the country by taking to the sea,” said Captain Mark Gordon, the regional coastguard chief of response enforcement. “These trips are incredibly dangerous.”