The Cuban migrants were intercepted earlier in the month by the Coast Guard and repatriated by two Coast Guard cutters. Meanwhile, a group of around two dozen Haitians, who arrived by sailboat from Port-de-Paix, were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon reaching Virginia Key, a small island near Miami.
Emergency responders told CBS that the migrants from Haiti appeared shaken up. They gave them blankets, food and water. "Life is the number one priority right now. Making sure that everyone is okay, accounted for and that they are in good health," Silva said.
"I was by the water by the Virginia Key and all I saw was a bunch of boats and the Coast Guard around it," said another witness. "It has been happening a lot so it's a crisis, so it's kind of tough for everybody. For me as an immigrant, it really hurts."
Cuban and Haitian migrants have been attempting to illegally enter Florida through the risky Florida Straits crossing in increasing numbers over recent years, driven by the worsening economic conditions and inflation in their home countries.
The trend has been particularly noticeable among Cubans, with the Coast Guard interdicting more than 4,900 Cuban migrants at sea since October 1st, 2022, compared to over 6,100 intercepted during the whole fiscal year 2022 ending September 30th.
The Biden administration recently implemented a new policy of turning back Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans who attempt to enter illegally at the Texas border.
The administration has also offered humanitarian parole for up to 30,000 people per month from these countries if they apply online, pay for their own airfare, and have a financial sponsor.
However, migrants who arrive illegally and do not immediately return home will not be eligible under this scheme. The administration hopes that this will discourage sea arrivals by providing a safer alternative and a pathway to residency.
The U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba recently resumed processing migrant visas, and some Cuban applicants have already been accepted under the new parole. In Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, many would-be applicants have been visiting immigration offices to apply for the necessary passports to participate in the U.S. program.
"We urge all people to use the safe and legal means available to travel to the United States," Coast Guard Lt. Commander Mark Cobb said in a statement, citing new legal pathways for entry. "Don't put your life at risk by taking to the sea when you don't have to."