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'Humanitarian crisis' in the Keys as 500 Cubans land in a weekend, followed by 100 Haitians

U.S Border Patrol
U.S. Border Patrol
The U.S. Border Patrol said 160 Cuban migrants landed in 10 separates instances in the Keys on Jan. 1, 2023.

The ongoing surge of migrants reaching the shores of the Florida Keys overwhelmed federal, state and local agencies as the new year began.

On Tuesday, on the back of nearly 500 arrivals from Cuba over the weekend, about 100 Haitians aboard a sailboat reached Key Largo, landing in a gated community.

Officials in the Keys have been dealing with record numbers of migrants landing or getting caught at sea — often on homemade boats on the back of dangerous journeys.

Monroe County's top law enforcement official said Monday the federal government has created "a humanitarian crisis," by failing to immediately respond to the number of migrant landings that demand local resources.

"This shows a lack of a working plan by the federal government to deal with a mass migration issue that was foreseeable,” Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said in a statement.

Nearly 500 Cuban migrants arrived in in the Keys with multiple landings reported since Dec. 30. On Tuesday, Border Patrol reported that around 100 Haitians had arrived on a sailboat off Key Largo.

U.S. Homeland Security officials did not respond to WLRN's requests for comment Tuesday.

But U.S. Border Patrol's chief agent in Miami tweeted that a team of law enforcement agencies responded to "a high volume of migrant landings" within 72 hours.

"Since Oct. 1, 2022, the Miami Sector has experienced almost a 400% increase in migrant encounters," said U.S. Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Walter Slosar of the Miami Sector.

Slosar asked people to give law enforcement agents space and drive with caution, as Border Patrol works to "protect our Florida border," and expect a greater presence of first responders.

Dry Tortugas temporarily closed

Dry Tortugas National Park, which is about 70 miles off Key West, on Jan. 2 closed temporarily due to nearly 300 Cubans stranded there after several groups arrived over two days.

The park service said space was needed to bring in agents and medical personnel to attend to migrants.

The privately operated ferry and sea plane services were temporarily shut down.

U.S. Border Patrol
U.S. Border Patrol
Many Cuban migrants take to the Florida Straits in an effort to reach South Florida in rickety boats. This boat was one of five that landed in the Keys within 24 hours Dec. 31, 2022, U.S. Border Patrol said.

The U.S. Homeland Security Task Force Southeast said Sunday that a team of agencies were working together on the Dry Tortugas situation, where migrants were stranded on the "remote, uninhabited islands."

"They will be removed, provided food, water and basic first aid before transfer to federal [law enforcement] agents in the Keys for processing by Border Patrol's Miami Sector to determine their legal status to remain in the United States or be processed for removal and repatriation to their country of origin," Homeland Security tweeted.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard continued returning people to Cuba, taking 80 people back Saturday.

"These voyages are not only illegal, but also incredibly dangerous," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Estrada on Twitter.