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A month has passed, and Cuban migrants still on Coast Guard cutter

Group of Cubans atop American Shoal Lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key in standoff with Coast Guard on Friday, May 20, 2016. Photos courtesy WSVN.
Group of Cubans atop American Shoal Lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key in standoff with Coast Guard on Friday, May 20, 2016. Photos courtesy WSVN.

A month has passed since more than 20 Cuban migrants were placed on a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and relegated to immigration limbo as they wait for a federal judge to decide if a lighthouse anchored to the reef off the Lower Florida Keys counts as dry land under the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy.

U.S. District Court Judge Darrin Gayles could make that ruling this week.

“It’s already been four weeks since they’ve been aboard that cutter,” said Ramon Saul Sanchez, with the immigration advocacy group Movimiento Democracia, or Democracy Movement.

The nonprofit filed an injunction against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on May 24 temporarily halting the migrants repatriation to Cuba. Under wet-foot, dry-foot — a 1995 change to the Cuban Adjustment Act — Cuban migrants immigrating to the United States by sea can stay here if they reach dry land. They must be sent back to Cuba if caught at sea.

Twenty-one of the migrants swam off their makeshift vessel and climbed onto the American Shoal lighthouse off the Lower Keys on May 20 after being confronted by a U.S. Coast Guard crew. Two were immediately caught after jumping into the water.

The migrants stayed on the 109-foot-tall structure for about eight hours before coming down and being taken aboard an undisclosed cutter. Three men in the group hid inside the lighthouse after the others surrendered and weren't found until the next day.

The Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney's Office argue the lighthouse, which is about seven nautical miles at sea south of Sugarloaf Key, does not count as dry land under wet-foot, dry foot.

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204

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