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At least two more weeks aboard cutter for lighthouse Cuban migrants

At least two more weeks aboard cutter for lighthouse Cuban migrants

U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles will decide on the fate of 24 Cubans
by the end of the month.
BY ANNA BAYDAKOVA

A federal hearing in Miami on Thursday to determine the fate of Cuban
migrants who took refuge at a Keys lighthouse lasted 3.5 hours but did
not put an end to the story.

U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles said he needed two to three more weeks
to decide on the case.

In the meantime, the Cubans — who ultimately turned out to be a total of
24 people, not 21 as previously reported — will remain aboard the same
Coast Guard cutter that has been ferrying them on the high seas since
they were plucked out of the water on May 20.

Judge Gayles recommended that the Coast Guard take no action to
repatriate them.

At issue is whether the American Shoal lighthouse located about 7 miles
from Sugarloaf Key, qualifies as U.S. territory under the wet foot/dry
foot policy. Under that policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are usually
allowed to stay, while those intercepted at sea are generally returned home.

“This sounds like it comes down to whether this was a reasonable
interpretation of an unclear policy,” Gayles said. “There are important
decisions to be made. I don’t want to be rushed.”

The group of Cuban migrants approached the Florida Keys two weeks ago
aboard a boat. When they spotted a Coast Guard cutter, they left their
boat and climbed onto the lighthouse and stayed there for hours before
surrendering to the Coast Guard.

Initially, 21 individuals left the lighthouse. Later, it turned out that
three more migrants were hiding there for two more days.

The historic 109-foot iron structure was in use from 1880 until 2015.

A witness for the plaintiffs, an engineer by the name of Jose Abreu,
offered lots of details during his testimony. He said the lighthouse has
a large, eight-room living area once occupied by a keeper and other
workers and sits on a submerged reef that was deeded to the U.S. by the
state of Florida in the 1870s. A lighthouse keeper apparently lived
there until 1963.

“This is a federal building, on federal land, in federal territory,”
said Kendall Coffey, a former Miami U.S. attorney who is among the the
team of lawyers representing the Cuban migrants.

“They were 6.5 miles away from the coast, the migration inspection
doesn’t occur there,” countered Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee.
“This is in the middle of the ocean. Just because the government owns a
lighthouse does not mean it is dry land.”

Judge Gayles scrupulously questioned both sides about the dry foot/wet
foot policy and the grounds for the Coast Guard action.

He noted that if the migrants were in court it would be helpful to hear
them testify to determine if they were fleeing for political reasons.

The lawyers representing the migrants deemed Friday’s decision as a success.

“This is a victory, at least they are not being repatriated,” said
Virlenys H. Palma, one of the attorneys.

The team also noted that a similar Keys case in 2006 took the court 60
days to resolve. In that case, a different Miami federal judge ruled
that Cubans who reached a portion of the abandoned Seven Mile Bridge
qualified for entry under “dry foot” because the structure was U.S.
territory even though it was no longer connected to land.

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Democracy Movement who filed the
lawsuit on behalf of the migrants, thanked the team of lawyers and the
Coast Guard — for not immediately repatriating them.

“Later, we will maybe go to this lighthouse and put many American flags
there so nobody ever doubts it’s America,” he said.

Source: At least two more weeks aboard cutter for lighthouse Cuban
migrants | In Cuba Today –
www.incubatoday.com/news/article81509652.html

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