Judge Rules Against Cuban Migrants Who Climbed Offshore Lighthouse

According to a federal court judge hearing their asylum case, 24 Cuban migrants who scaled the American Shoal Lighthouse, which is 6.5 miles off the coast of Key West, did not touch “dry land.” The ruling means the men who surrendered to the U.S. Coast Guard after a brief standoff will be processed and repatriated to Cuba.

For decades, U.S. immigration policy has held that Cubans escaping the country’s communist dictatorship can stay in the United States if they succeed in placing a foot firmly on American soil. Determining whether a Cuban refugee had a “wet foot” or “dry foot” has been critical to resolving asylum requests. On Tuesday, June 28, Judge Darrin P. Gayles concluded that these men had not met the minimal standard within his reading of the law when they climbed atop the 136-year-old iron structure.

Judge Gayle wrote, "As an abandoned — and dangerous — structure over seven miles from the closest dry land, no one today would live on the Lighthouse. It has never been connected to dry land, and even at the lowest tide the water is still at least four feet deep. Because the Migrant Plaintiffs here would necessarily require transportation from the Lighthouse to the mainland in order to survive, landing on the Lighthouse is essentially no different than having been interdicted at sea."

Judge Gayle acknowledged human rights abuses in Cuba and found no fault with the migrants for their attempted escape. But, those facts were beyond the scope of the court’s inquiry, which was limited to the question of whether the structure could be considered a proxy for U.S. soil.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Cuban immigration to the United States has increased fairly steadily since mid-2014. Many Cubans who are hopeful of asylum fear the changed relationship between the two countries. Many want to get here while the “dry foot” policy is still in place.

An experienced immigration attorney can provide the guidance you need to overcome legal obstacles. For trustworthy advice, consult our dedicated Tampa Bay-area immigration lawyers at the Law Offices of K. Dean Kantaras, P.A.

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