Fact check: Coast Guard continues to interdict, repatriate illegal entry at sea


(The Center Square) – U.S. Coast Guard crews continue to interdict and repatriate foreign nationals attempting to illegally enter the U.S. off the coast of Florida despite recent claims to the contrary.

After a larger-than-normal surge of illegal activity began around New Year’s Eve 2022 and New Year’s Day 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency and disaster declaration in January 2023 and deployed the National Guard and other state resources to respond. The number of illegal entries by sea significantly dropped, law enforcement officials told The Center Square. Throughout last year, illegal entry attempts by sea remained low.

After political turmoil erupted in Haiti earlier this year, and large numbers of Haitians were expected to arrive by sea off the coast of Florida, Gov. DeSantis again surged state resources to south Florida in March, The Center Square reported. While many feared an influx of Haitians illegally entering by sea would occur, the surge has yet to materialize.

Despite lower interdiction numbers, the U.S. Coast Guard 7th District in South Florida continues to patrol for illegal entry, interdict, and repatriate, regularly publicizing their efforts, The Center Square has reported.

Despite public record of the Coast Guard’s efforts, a Center for Immigration Studies fellow claimed, “The Coast Guard has been given strict orders that if they’re coming out of Haiti, to not interdict, to just follow the boats until they land to make sure they don’t sink … Since the U.S. has decided they’re not going repatriate them back to Haiti, there’s no reason for them to interdict. So it’s going to be a definite [expletive] show.”

The claim had been echoed elsewhere after being fact-checked by multiple sources, including USCG, as false.

“The Coast Guard and its partner agencies remain in an enhanced posture and will continue to rescue and repatriate all migrants on unlawful maritime voyages regardless of nationality,” a spokesperson with the Coast Guard 7th District Public Affairs Team told The Center Square. In fiscal 2024, the Coast Guard has repatriated 118 Haitians and 348 Cubans as of April, according to the latest data shared with The Center Square.

The Coast Guard also continues to regularly publicize its dangerous work of interdiction at sea through social media channels and in news releases.

Several recent interdiction events occurred in May, including two U.S. Coast Guard cutters returning a combined 92 foreign nationals after four separate interdiction efforts in one weekend.

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Paul Clark repatriated 23 Cubans, after two separate interdictions near Key West and in an area southwest of Marquesas, Florida. After announcing their efforts, Lt. J.G. Nicholas Fujimoto, Coast Guard Seventh District Enforcement Branch, said, “The Coast Guard and its Homeland Security Task Force – Southeast partners will continue to be a presence in the air and on the waters to detect and deter migrants from attempting to unlawfully enter the U.S. by sea. Under Title 8, migrants who arrive without authorization will be repatriated and deemed ineligible for legal immigration pathways.”

On May 22, the same crew repatriated 31 Cubans after multiple interdictions in the Florida Straits, in an area near Key West and southwest of Marquesas, Florida. Other interdictions occurred 23 miles north of Matanzas, Cuba, and 23 miles south of Plantation Key, Florida.

On May 17, the Paul Clark repatriated 26 Cubans after interdiction efforts near the Florida Keys. On May 14, they also repatriated 23 Cubans after two separate interdictions near Key West, Florida, roughly 12 miles south of Marquesas and 26 miles south of Marathon.

“The Coast Guard and our HSTF-SE partners remain in an enhanced posture and maintain a continuous presence in the Windward Passage, Mona Passage, and Florida Straits,” said Lt. Cmdr. Tanner Stiehl, Coast Guard Seventh District Staff Attorney. “Repeated unlawful attempts to emigrate to the U.S. are subject to prosecution in addition to ineligibility for legal migration pathways.”

These interdictions are typical of Coast Guard efforts in the Florida Straits and surrounding areas but significantly less in volume compared to fiscal 2021 and 2022 data.

According to Coast Guard records, from Oct. 1, 2022, to May 17, 2023, Coast Guard crews interdicted or encountered 6,679 Cubans and 4,473 Haitians, previously reported by The Center Square.

Coast Guard crews apprehended 1,527 Haitians in fiscal 2021, 418 in fiscal 2020, 932 in fiscal 2019, 609 in fiscal 2018 and 419 in fiscal 2017.

By comparison, they apprehended 838 Cubans in fiscal 2021, 49 in fiscal 2020, 313 in fiscal 2019, 259 in fiscal 2018, 1,468 in fiscal 2017 and 5,396 in fiscal 2016, The Center Square reported.

These numbers exclude interdiction efforts of Miami Sector Border Patrol agents, also reported on by The Center Square.

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