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Dozens of Haitian migrants were rescued while trying to reach the Florida Keys


A frightening scene played out Monday when more than 200 Haitian migrants attempted to reach the Florida Keys in a floundering sailboat. Border Patrol agents say they rescued dozens of people who nearly died amid high winds and rough seas. Children and even babies were among the rescued. Some of the migrants are now in federal custody; others have been sent back to Haiti. Reporter David Goodhue has been covering this for the Florida Keys News and the Miami Herald. David, the migrants who were on this journey, where are they now?

DAVID GOODHUE: Some are in Border Patrol custody, likely in Marathon, Fla., which is the middle Florida Keys. Others are on a Coast Guard cutter and will probably most likely be sent back to Haiti.

MARTÍNEZ: What kind of shape are they in?

GOODHUE: Some we saw that made land were - seemed OK; others seemed pretty badly dehydrated.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Because I'm watching some of the pictures that you posted or some of the videos that you posted on Twitter. And it just looks like just a frightening, frightening scene. And it kind of just shows their desperation in what they were trying to do.

GOODHUE: Absolutely. I mean - and not to mention - it shouldn't be overlooked - the weather of the past few days in South Florida has been very windy, very rainy. It's been raining nonstop since probably about Sunday. So the seas out there were six to 10 feet, more than 25-mile-per-hour winds. So it was a very - must have been a very harrowing journey.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you know if they got medical attention? I'm sure they probably needed at least a little bit.

GOODHUE: They do. Right off the bat, they get checked out. And not only the - not only federal officials, but there were local fire rescue medics on the scene.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. As you've reported, arrivals like this are becoming a lot more common. Where are people coming from, and why are they traveling to the U.S.?

GOODHUE: They come from - more so from Cuba and from Haiti. Both countries are going through economic and political turmoil not seen in decades for Haiti and a decade for Cuba. Haiti is also experiencing gang violence, fuel shortages and other problems that just make it unsafe for people to stay there.

MARTÍNEZ: And how are federal and local officials responding to this, both to this particular incident and to the growing number of arrivals in general?

GOODHUE: Well, the Keys - the Florida Keys has been the main destination point for most of these journeys. Basically, the old wet foot, dry foot policy for Cubans, which was supposed to have gone away in 2017, is unofficially back because there are so many migrants that have come here, they can't be quickly processed and sent back to Cuba. Plus, the Cuban government is not accepting deportation flights from the United States at the moment. So right now, they're being released to family and friends, for the most part, with orders to report to federal immigration officials similar to being on probation.

MARTÍNEZ: Considering that we all know how bad the situation is in Haiti and in Cuba, are Border Patrol agents expecting more to come, and are they just making sure that they'll be ready for them?

GOODHUE: Well, they track things by the fiscal year, which starts in October. And last fiscal year was already the most for Cubans in 10 years - in about 10 years and for Haitians since about 2004. Already this fiscal year, again, that began October 1, if it goes on that track, it's going to more than double this year. So, yeah, they're expecting more.

MARTÍNEZ: And one more thing, quickly, David, what's the response been of the migrants' home countries?

GOODHUE: I think people are finding that it might be worth making the trip, which federal officials beg people not to do because it's very dangerous to cross the Florida Straits to get here. But, yeah, more people are encouraged because more people are making it. And so far, a lot of the people who make landfall are not being sent back.

MARTÍNEZ: David Goodhue is a reporter with Florida Keys News and the Miami Herald. David, thanks.

GOODHUE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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