Driven by fear that their window is closing, the number of Cuban migrants attempting to reach the U.S. illegally in rafts has surged since the two countries announced they would restore diplomatic relations after 50 years, Coast Guard officials said Monday.
U.S. authorities have captured, intercepted or chased away 421 Cubans since Dec. 17, mostly in the Florida Straits, said Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma, spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 7th District in Miami.
In all of December 2013, the total number of Cuban migrants who encountered U.S. law enforcement while trying to reach the U.S was nearly half that — just 222.
And just before the historic announcement of the U.S-Cuba detente — from Dec. 1 to Dec. 16 — only 132 Cubans were kept from reaching U.S. shores.
Some Cubans recently told The Associated Press that they were thinking about speeding up their plans to get to the U.S., but others cautioned against attempting the dangerous crossing when it’s still unclear how U.S. law may change.
“I’m crazy to leave, but I’m not going to throw myself into the sea, I’m not going to do it,” Juan Moreno, 34, said in Havana on Monday. “He who does that is crazy.”
The Coast Guard says the significant increase in the number of Cuban migrants has been prompted by rumors that an abrupt end is coming as soon as Jan. 15 to the so-called wet foot-dry foot policy that usually shields Cubans from deportation if they reach U.S. shores.
But U.S. officials say there are no immediate plans to change the policy. Congress would have to change the Cuban Adjustment Act or the U.S. trade embargo.