The U.S. Coast Guard announced it is increasing patrols in the Florida Strait after experiencing a spike illegal migration attempts.
According to a statement released Monday, a total of 96 Cuban migrants have been interdicted in just the first five days of 2015. Each of the seven intercepted attempts took place with what the Coast Guard describes as, “unseaworthy, homemade vessels.”
"The Coast Guard is aggressively maintaining a presence in the region and discourages these dangerous and deadly voyages," said Rear Admiral Jake Korn, the South Florida district commander. "Anyone located at sea will be returned to Cuba in accordance with immigration laws."
Officials speculate the spike in migration attempts is coming on the heels of President Obama’s recent announcement of plans to normalize relations with the Castro-run Cuban Government.
Some fear that the new governmental relationship could bring an end to the “wet foot/dry foot” policy currently in place, which allows Cuban migrants who make it ashore to stay and apply for a change in immigration status after one year in the U.S.
Those interdicted at sea are returned to their homeland in accordance with immigration laws.
The fears of policy change are purely rumors at this point, and are being seen as an unintended consequence of the Obama announcement.
"The administration's recent announcement regarding Cuba does not affect immigration policies including wet foot/dry foot or the Cuban Adjustment Act — which only Congress can change," Korn told South Florida’s Sun Sentenial newspaper.
Other countries in the region including the Dominican Republic and Haiti do not enjoy the benefits of the wet foot/dry foot policy and are repatriated whether found on land or sea.
The Washington Post reports, a total of 3,378 migrants were intercepted by the Coast Guard in fiscal 2014. That number is up from 2,094 the year before.
Of those 3,378 migrants, 2,059 came from Cuba. Other leading countries included Haiti (949), the Dominican Republic (293) and Mexico (48), where immigrants sometimes use boats instead of making their way across the U.S./Mexico land border.
“Our main goal is to support national policy of orderly, safe and legal migration through deterrence of unlawful maritime migration, including migrant smuggling," said Capt. Mark Fedor, Coast Guard 7th District chief of response. "Coast Guard missions and operations in the southeast remain unchanged."