Thirty-eight Cuban migrants caught trying to sail to the U.S. are stranded aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, waiting for permission from the Cuban government to return home.
WASHINGTON — Thirty-eight Cuban migrants caught trying to sail to the U.S. are stranded aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, waiting for permission from the Cuban government to return home.
The would-be immigrants had tourist visas to the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia when they were intercepted at sea by the Coast Guard, U.S. officials said. The Cuban government has refused re-entry to the island because their return does not comport with a repatriation agreement with the U.S., one official said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss details of the situation.
The migrants were among about 96 Cubans who were intercepted at sea and taken aboard the Coast Guard cutter Vigilant, a 210-foot ship operating out of Port Canaveral, Fla. The ship typically carries 75 officers and crew. The Cuban government allowed the return of the other 58 people.
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Under U.S. law, Cuban nationals who make it onto U.S. soil are granted permission to come into the country and can quickly become legal permanent residents and eventually U.S. citizens. Migrants caught at sea generally are sent back to Cuba. The Cuban government has historically allowed U.S. authorities to quickly repatriate those migrants caught at sea.
The migrants were found near the Virgin Islands in late April and have been aboard the Vigilant in international waters since, one of the officials said.
The so-called wet-foot-dry-foot policy has long angered Cuba’s communist leaders who have argued that the policy encourages Cuban citizens to make the treacherous trip across the Florida Straits, often on homemade rafts or rickety boats in hopes of landing on U.S. soil.
In recent years, the Cuban government under President Raul Castro has made it easier for Cubans to travel overseas by eliminating a decades-old and unpopular exit visa requirement.
The decision to keep the migrants from returning is likely to cause a diplomatic rift as both governments have been negotiating conditions for re-establishing diplomatic relations. Presidents Obama and Raul Castro announced the effort in December.
The United States and Cuba are trying to wrap up an agreement in the coming days that would allow them to re-establish embassies and post ambassadors to each other’s capitals after a half-century interruption. Officials from both governments were planning to meet in Havana Friday to discuss the situation.