Traffickers carrying 27 Cuban migrants arrested by the feds off Key Largo

The go-fast boat seized by the federal government early Sunday.
The go-fast boat seized by the federal government early Sunday. dgoodhue@keysreporter.com

Human traffickers were caught by federal authorities carrying 27 migrants from Cuba early Sunday off northern Key Largo.

A law enforcement source says the people were brought in on a 40-foot speed boat about 500 yards off the gated Ocean Reef community. The go-fast boat was intercepted by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations crew.

Five people with the migrant group were able to escape into the mangroves, but U.S. Border Patrol agents caught them, Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Adam Hoffner said.

“Of the five that absconded, all five have been taken into custody,” Hoffner said.

Hoffner also said two people, who agents said were smugglers,will face criminal charges. Four other Cubans were arrested, he said, and the 27 migrants will be returned to Cuba.

“The smugglers are not concerned with the safety of the people they are smuggling, rather they continue to put the lives of the migrants at risk,” he wrote in a statement. “Their primary motivation is greed and their desire to make money.”

In response to reports of another group of migrants arriving at Black Point Marina in South Miami-Dade Sunday afternoon, Nestor Yglesias, a spokesman for Homeland Security, said the organization was investigating both cases of migrants entering the country. He said no information was to be released because "information is still being gathered."

This is the first large group of migrants to attempt a landing in the United States since the former Obama administration ended the so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” immigration policy in January.

The policy stipulated that most Cubans caught at sea trying to reach the United States would be sent back to the island nation 90 miles south of Key West. Those who made it to shore, however, could stay and apply for permanent residence after a year.

The justification for the Cold War-era policy — added to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act in 1995 — came into question after the Obama administration and the Castro regime reestablished diplomatic ties in 2015.

Miami Herald staff reporter Alex Harris contributed to this report.