The fort sees an average of 400 Cuban refugees a year. Since the nearest coast guard is some 70 miles away in Key West, and therefore unable to intercept them, many refugees head for the Dry Tortugas to make their landfall. Technically, it is illegal to enter the US this way, but under a policy established in 1995, having “one dry foot” on US soil allows a Cuban migrant to legally stay and seek citizenship. After talks with the Cuban government, the US agreed that it would stop admitting Cubans found at sea.
They arrive in makeshift boats, called balsa cubanas, or chugs.
Scott was amazed at what is used to build an hold them together. Some use cement for caulk..
And this one appears to have used large plastic tubes, filled with random shit!!..
The boats carry up to 33 or more people!
The rangers here at the fort usually see the boats on the horizon, call the coast guard, and then keep an eye as to where the refugees land. Most often, the boats land on the nearby, small keys. Once they are brought to the fort, the refugees are given food, clothes and water, and a place to stay until the coast guard comes to collect them. On occasion, the coast guard is too busy to come right away, or sea conditions are too rough, so they arrive days later. Refugees from other countries who may have traveled with Cubans are sent back to their home country, as the US only extends this policy to Cuban refugees. It seems likely that in the near future, this whole procedure will be a thing of the past!
“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”