A U.S. national park comprising a cluster of uninhabited islands in the Florida Keys was closed Monday after 300 migrants made 10 landings there over the weekend, officials said.
Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles west of Key West, was closed so law enforcement and medical personnel could evaluate the migrants before moving them to Key West, the park tweeted.
“The closure, which is expected to last several days, is necessary for the safety of visitors and staff because of the resources and space needed to attend to the migrants,” park officials said in their statement.
In a tweet, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that at least 88 migrants were from Cuba.
Locals called it something they’ve never seen before.
“I have never seen 14 rafts and 290 migrants all dropped off on the Dry Tortugas before and they've had to actually close the park because of it. It's the first time I've ever heard of that,” explained Bill Delph, owner of Delph Fishing Charters in Key West.
Delph’s son posted a video on twitter Monday showing some of the boats that came ashore. In the video, his son said 290 migrants were being held inside Fort Jefferson, which is located in the park.
Delph charters boats from the Keys to the Dry Tortugas and has been doing it for years. Migrant landings are nothing new to him but since last year, the volume of landings have dramatically increased. According to Customs and Border Patrol, the number of landings increased by more than 400% between October 2021 and October 2022. According to the federal agency, those percentages have remained consistent month over month since.
Delph said the migrants arriving in recent months appear to be more desperate than migrants who have made it to Florida shores in the past.
“When they're coming across they're telling us things like they're starving, they need to get out. They have a different look in their eyes. When you talk to these people, these are not the same refugees that were coming over 10 years ago. You can see that they're leaving a much more desperate and dire situation,” he said.
While mass migration trends occur periodically in Florida, Cuba’s struggling economy, food shortages and soaring inflation have been among the reasons cited for this latest crisis.
Back in October, Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone and photojournalist Matthew Apthorp spent two-and-a-half days with Customs & Border patrol on land and with Air and Marine Patrol units at sea in the Florida Keys to document the surge in migrant landings. At the time, federal agents described the frequency of landings as the most intense influx they’d seen in well over a decade. Since our visit, the number of migrant landings in the Keys has continued to increase and reach historic levels.
In a statement, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said the volume of landings in the Keys require a lot of resources from the Sheriff’s department. Sheriff Ramsay also expressed frustration with the federal government’s response to the nation’s immigration crisis.
“This federal failure is creating a humanitarian crisis,” a statement from his office reads.
“This shows a lack of a working plan by the federal government to deal with a mass migration issue that was foreseeable,” the Sheriff said.
Most of the recent migrant landings in Florida have involved Cubans but Haitians are also known to make these dangerous voyages.
On Tuesday, a boat carrying approximately 100 Haitian migrants landed on shore in Key Largo, according to U.S. Customs & Border Patrol.