Border Patrol says more migrants are coming to Florida this year than last. On Wednesday night, Border Patrol agents found 25 migrants from Cuba in the Marquesas Keys, 20 miles from Key West.
Marathon is where Customs and Border Protection sends new arrivals to Key West for processing. They say the surge of Cuban arrivals during New Year’s weekend did not last. There is a decrease this week.
Adam Hoffner, assistant chief patrol agent in Miami, said more internal resources had been deployed, such as agents with specialized skill sets in search and rescue, to prevent deaths at sea.
“We encountered a group yesterday that was fortunate to have made it here. Their homemade vessel broke. The propeller broke while attempting to transit here from Cuba, and they were able to fix it at sea. If not, they would have likely been stranded out there for weeks,” said Hoffner.
Hoffner said many of the migrants have limited food and water supplies, which is another reason their lives are at risk as they try to make it here from Cuba.
WINK News met with a family whose father came to Florida from Cuba during the Mariel Boat Lift.
Page after page, the family’s scrapbook tells the story of Arturo Cobo. A Bay of Pigs veteran, he enlisted at just 18 years old after seeing the communist regime in Cuba take ownership of his father’s bank.
It’s a story Cobo’s daughters, Becky and Elsa, never forget.
“As soon as they recruited, my grandfather begged him not to. And he kind of did it behind his back. He left him a note,” said Elsa Degraffenreid.
While fighting for freedom, Cobo was arrested and spent almost two years in a Cuban prison. He was released on Christmas Day in 1960 and lived in Key West until he died in 2019.
His daughters say he never stopped fighting for Cuban migrants.
“In the early ’90s, when we had the exodus of rafters coming over, he opened Elewana Transito. It was run 24 hours by volunteers and donations, and they would give them food, clothing, and help them to get in contact with family members,” said Degraffenreid.
If Cobo were here today to see the influx of migrants who shut down Dry Tortugas Park over New Year’s weekend, the sisters believe he’d still be fighting.
“He would be doing what he was doing when he had the transit home. He would have worked with the coast guard, and whoever you know, any agency to you know, process them,” said Becky Cobo.
Not all Cubans who leave for the US make it here alive. That’s why the federal government has put more agents skilled in search and rescue in the waters between the two nations.
Cobo’s daughters say as long as communism controls Cuba, people will risk their lives.
“All he ever wanted was, had hoped was that he would see Cuba free,” said Degraffenreid. It is something Cobo’s daughters hope to see as well. “Oh, yeah. It was his hope. And now it’s ours.”
The sisters hope to continue their father’s legacy by eventually opening up a transit home in his name.