Via Michael Pancier, the 15 rafters that made it to the bridge have been repatriated:
15 Cubans who reached Old Seven Mile Bridge bridge sent home
By LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ
Posted January 9 2006, 2:19 PM EST
MIAMI — Fifteen Cuban migrants who fled their homeland and landed on an abandoned bridge in the Florida Keys were returned to their homeland Monday after U.S. officials concluded that the piling did not constitute dry land, authorities said.
Under the U.S. government’s “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, Cubans who reach dry land in the United States are usually allowed to remain in the country, while those caught at sea are sent back.
Earlier Monday, officials said the Cubans were aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, as they awaited a final decision as to their status.
The historic Old Seven Mile Bridge, which runs side by side with a newer bridge, is missing several chunks, and the Cubans had the misfortune of reaching pilings from a section that no longer touches land.
The federal government said that means the group never actually reached U.S. territory, and could be sent home.
An attorney representing relatives of the Cubans had filed an emergency request Monday to prevent them from being sent back. The attorney asked the government to review the question of whether the bridge constitutes dry land.
The Cubans, including a 2-year-old boy and a 13-year-old boy, left Matanzas Province in Cuba late on the night of Jan. 2 aboard a small, homemade boat. They were rescued by the Coast Guard from the base of the bridge just south of Marathon Key.
“The particular structure that they were found upon is not connected to land. The `bridge’ is kind of a misnomer,” said Coast Guard Lt. Commander Chris O’Neil, spokesman for the department’s Southeast region.
O’Neil said officials in Washington determined the Cubans should be considered “feet wet,” because they were not able to walk to land from where they landed.
At least a dozen Cuban-Americans protested the Cubans’ situation Monday outside the Coast Guard headquarters in Miami Beach.
“They are trying to go as far as they can … to take away the immigrants’ rights,” said Ramon Saul Sanchez, head of the Democracy Movement, a Cuban-American advocacy group.
Veteran immigration attorney Ira Kurzban, who is not involved in the case, called the Coast Guard decision ridiculous.
“The wet-foot, dry-foot policy has no foundation in law,” he said. Kurzban said the policy is inconsistent with U.S. and international law, noting that the federal government’s jurisdiction extends beyond dry land to waters as far out as 100 miles.
“International law says that refugees should be granted a hearing before they are forcibly returned,” he said.
The Coast Guard announced that the 15 bridge Cubans were among 67 returned to their homeland later Monday. The group included 14 migrants intercepted four miles south of Boot Key on Jan. 1; 10 migrants were interdicted 30 miles south of Marquesas on Jan. 2; 12 migrants who were interdicted 25 miles south of Dry Tortugas on Jan. 4; and 12 migrants located 30 miles southwest of Cabo San Antonio, Cuba, by the research vessel Joides Resolution.
The wet-foot/dry-foot, an affront to the very ideals that make this country what it is.