Fleeing your home country and leaving everything you hold dear behind you is one of the biggest sacrifices that many migrants and refugees make in their journey to a better life.
However, for a trio of Cubans fleeing their homes on the island, things took an even darker turn when their boat capsized in the middle of the Caribbean and they were forced to swim to a deserted island. It would be weeks before they would be rescued and they were forced to find a way to survive off of what little the island provided in terms of food and shelter. Their story is one of incredible survival.
U.S. Coast Guard rescued three Cuban migrants from a deserted island.
While doing routine patrols earlier in the week, an aircrew of the U.S. Coast Guard spotted two men and a woman waving makeshift flags on a deserted island between the Lower Florida Keys and Cuba. The Coast Guard dropped down a radio, food, and water to the trio on Monday and rescued them off the island on Tuesday.
“It was incredible. I don’t know how they did it. I was amazed they were in as good as shape as they were,” Lt. Justin Dougherty told CNN affiliate WPLG.
According to the rescued migrants, their boat had capsized in rough waters about five weeks ago and they were forced to swim to the island.
The trio did all they could to survive on the deserted island for 33 days.
According to the Florida Sun Sentinel, the group lived off coconuts, conches and rats while on the island. The group had also built themselves a temporary shelter, a coast guard official said.
“Being out in those harsh elements for a long period of time, they were very happy to see us,” helicopter pilot Mike Allert told ABC’s Good Morning America. “I cannot recall a time that we saved people who were stranded for over a month on an island. That is a new one for me.”
They were taken to the Lower Keys medical center, where none appeared to have serious injuries. And by Wednesday, they were in federal custody after being moved to an immigration facility in Pompano Beach, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.
There is no one reason for the record-breaking number of migrant deaths along the Arizona border with Mexico. Between the cruel border policies of the Trump administration, an increase in hostility by US Border Patrol toward humanitarian aid workers, and record-breaking heat in the state, all combined to create the dangerous and deadly conditions.
However, one thing is clear: more must be done to avoid the needless loss of life for those simply seeking a better opportunity for themselves and their families.
The remains of at least 225 people have been found scattered throughout the Arizona desert, so far.
2020 has been the deadliest year on record for migrants crossing into Arizona, with the remains of at least 225 people being discovered across the desert. This is a significant uptick from last year, when 144 remains were found; from 2018, when there were 128; and from 2017, when there were 124, according to data compiled by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office and Humane Borders, a Tucson-based human rights group. The previous record was in 2010, when 224 remains were found in the Arizona desert.
Since 1998, at least 7,000 migrants are believed to have died along the US-Mexico border, maybe many more, as record-keeping is patchy.
“These people are not just numbers,” said Tony Banegas, executive director of the Colibri Center for Human Rights, an organization in Tucson working to identify migrant remains and helps families find missing loved ones.
“These are human beings with families and aspirations. They went to great lengths to make the journey, [only] to become just a grave in the desert.”
Visualizing the numbers can be overwhelming to comprehend.
Since 2013, migrant rights advocates and health officials have published an online database mapping the deaths of people identified as migrants in Southern Arizona. The public database was set up to help researchers, family members searching for a missing person, and humanitarian aid workers, who could use the information to identify where to leave more water. The map shows a red dot for every body recovered: 3,365 since 2001.
The red dots, even for a single year, can look overwhelming. It’s important to remember each red dot represents someone’s loved one who died trying to reach the United States.
Experts point to the record-breaking heatwaves that baked the Arizona deserts in 2020.
Arizona is no stranger to hot weather and most migrants who attempt the border crossing are well aware of the dangers the heat poses, but few come well-prepared.
According to Greg Hess, chief medical examiner in Pima County, “the heat is likely the biggest contributing factor for the uptick of remains that we are finding.” This year, Arizona broke many records with nonstop extreme heat for months, and with the least amount of rain during the summer.
But Trump’s cruel immigration policies also had an outsized effect on migrant safety.
Since March, the Trump administration used the pandemic to seal shut an already virtually closed U.S.-Mexico border to migrants who turn themselves in to border agents and to asylum seekers. These cruel and inhumane policies forced many of them to make the dangerous trek through the Arizona desert.
“They can’t apply for asylum, so their options are considerably cut down and they’re forced into more and more dangerous situations,” says Montana Thames, a humanitarian aid worker with No More Deaths, an advocacy group that seeks to aid migrants crossing in the desert. “Plus, wall construction is happening closer to Nogales and Sasabe, where there are more resources—so because of the wall constitution, they have to go to more dangerous and more remote parts of the desert.”
Making matters worse, as part of the changes to border policy since the pandemic started, Border Patrol has been immediately sending people they apprehend in the desert, many of whom are already in bad shape—often dehydrated and disoriented—right back to the border to be released into Mexico.
Migrant aid groups also saw their work threatened by U.S. Border Patrol.
For years, the number one cause of death among migrants crossing through the desert has been exposure to the elements, resulting in hypothermia or hyperthermia. As a result, aide groups like No More Death have been leaving food and water and stations throughout the desert.
The organization has long had a functioning relationship with Border Patrol, and there was even mutual respect between the two. But this year, aid workers say previous agreements with Border Patrol seemed to go out the window.
Over the summer, Border Patrol raided a No More Deaths camp 10 miles north of the border that had been running since 2004. Heavily armed agents then conducted a second raid in the middle of the night just days later. The agents confiscated phones and records of the migrants who had passed through the camp.
After years of living in a state of uncertainty about their future, Venezuelan refugees in the U.S. might finally be granted long-term protection by the U.S. government.
On Monday, Democratic senators took the official steps towards granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelan migrants in the U.S.
A similar resolution passed in the House in 2019, but was blocked by Republicans in the senate.
This time if passed, TPS could protect 200,000 Venezuelan citizens currently in the U.S, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.
Although former President Trump issued a Deferred Enforced Departure decree (DED) on his final day in office, critics and immigration experts alike argue that this action didn’t go far enough.
“After four years of empty promises and deceit, nobody believes Donald Trump had an epiphany on his last day in office and decided to protect the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans he was forcing into the shadows,” said New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez in a statement.
Indeed, Trump DED order only delayed deportation of undocumented Venezuelans for up to 18 months. But TPS would grant Venezuelan refugees protected status.
“TPS is an immigration status that can lead to a green card under President Joe Biden’s immigration proposal,” Miami-based immigration lawyer Laura Jimenez told NBC News.
“TPS is based in statute and is a legal immigration status, as opposed to Deferred Enforced Departure,” Menendez, who was born in New York City to Cuban immigrants, said. “That is why we are relaunching our campaign to actually stand with those fleeing the misery caused by the Maduro regime.”
Throughout his campaign, President Biden promised he would extend Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan refugees, so now the refugee community wants to see him act on that promise.
Venezuela’s economy collapsed under the repressive regime of Nicolás Maduro, shrinking by approximately 64%.
Not only are there widespread food shortages and massive inflation, but Maduro’s critics are being jailed and silenced by other nefarious means.
Because of all this, the South American country facing what Bloomberg calls “a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions.” As of now, some 5.4 million Venezuelans are in exile, with 600 more leaving the country every day.
But with the news of a likely extension of Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans in the U.S., many Venezuelans are starting to feel optimistic about the future.
“Now, I feel like I’m really a part of this society and we keep supporting this country,” said Tampa resident Jennifer Infante to Bay News 9 about the recent Congressional news. “I think we deserve this opportunity because we came to make this country a better place and to keep moving forward.”