In this photo provided by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, a sailboat carrying a group of over 100 migrants from Haiti is shown after they arrived off Key West, Fla., early Wednesday, June, 26, 2024. (Monroe County Sheriff's Office via AP)
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A group of more than a hundred Haitian migrants arrived in a sailboat off the lower Florida Keys on early morning Wednesday, local and federal officials said.

The boat arrived about 100 yards (91 meters) away from a condominium in Key West at 4:00 a.m., and shortly after that law enforcement officers arrived to the scene, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said. Most of the 118 migrants were male, but the group also included women and children, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The landing comes as the Caribbean nation is struggling with a surge of gang violence that has killed several thousand people in recent years and left hundreds of thousands homeless in the country’s capital. Gangs have been targeting key public figures as well as hospitals, schools, banks and other critical institutions in Haiti, one of the poorest country in the Americas.

Tens of thousands of Haitians have left their country in recent years, with many arriving on the southern border of the United States, but President Joe Biden’s administration has implemented measures that have made it even more difficult for asylum seekers to enter across the land border.

With the support from federal, estate and local law enforcement agencies, U.S. Border Patrol agents responded to the arrival of Haitian migrants this week, said Samuel Briggs II, the acting Chief Patrol Agent of the agency in Miami, on the social media platform X. Paramedics were evaluating people at the scene and a group of them were transported to a local clinic, but none had life threatening injuries, said the Sheriff’s Office.

In the Florida Keys, migrant landings of people fleeing Cuba are more frequent than migrant boats from Haiti. Cubans generally arrive in small boats, while Haitians arrive in larger groups, like the one on Wednesday.

The Biden administration has been sending Haitians back to their country since April, when, for the first time in several months, there was a deportation flight. At that time the Homeland Security Department said in a statement that it “will continue to enforce U.S. laws and policy throughout the Florida Straits and and the Caribbean region, as well as at the southwest border.”

U.S. policy is to deport noncitizens who do not establish a legal basis to remain in the United States.
A couple hundred police officers from Kenya arrived in Haiti on Tuesday as part of an international security mission backed from the United Nations to quell the gang violence.

Immigration advocates and members of the Haitian diaspora in South Florida urged the federal and state governments to provide support to the migrants that arrived.

“The situation in Haiti is beyond desperate. People are fleeing for their lives, seeking safety and a chance to survive,” said Tessa Petit, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition and a native of Haiti. “We urge our government to treat these individuals with the compassion and dignity they deserve.”

During fiscal year 2023, the Coast Guard said it stopped at sea and repatriated about 1,800 migrants from Haiti and 6,618 from Cuba who tried to reach the Florida coast. The numbers have decreased this fiscal year, which began in October 2023, with more than 290 Haitian migrants and 420 Cuban migrants repatriated so far.

“The Coast Guard and our Homeland Security Task Force Southeast partners have not observed an increase in unlawful maritime migration compared to historical trends,” Coast Guard spokesperson Nicholas Strasburg said over email in a statement to The Associated Press.

In January 2023, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order allowing state law enforcement officers and National Guard soldiers to patrol the sea and sky in search of migrants arriving to the state.
The measure went into effect after an increase in migrant arrivals from Cuba and Haiti at the end of 2022 overwhelmed Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers assigned to the Keys.

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