‘Hard sight to see’: Coast Guard crews intercept migrants at sea desperate for US

Norman Ray
Norman Ray

Global Courant

Coast Guard crews in the Strait of Florida deal daily with makeshift rafts carrying people desperate to reach the US, a journey that can often end in tragedy.

“We see these people so desperate — we come across these people from Haiti who have probably paid smugglers for transportation, hoping to get to the United States… They have nothing to lose. When they leave, I think they understand the risks of making this journey,” Cdr. Brooke Millard, commander of the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Bear, told The Virginian-Pilot.

Millard’s comment comes as her crew patrols the Florida Strait, where they daily encounter dozens of migrants crammed onto unsafe rafts trying to make their way to the US to start a new life. One such encounter in June ended in tragedy, when a ship carrying 15 migrants from the Bahamas carried an unconscious person that Coast Guard members were unable to resuscitate, according to The Virginian-Pilot report.

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US Coast Guard detains 396 HAITIAN MIGRANTS on 50-foot boat near BAHAMAS

Coast Guard members intercept a boat carrying Cuban migrants. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing immigration laws at sea, with migrants intercepted by its members typically being repatriated to their home countries. Fiscal 2023 is on track to break last year’s tally of 12,000 Haitian and Cuban migrants intercepted at sea, to date 11,900 since October 1.

Intercepted migrants are housed in tents on the ship’s cockpit and often more than 100 migrants can be on board at a time. The crew, often outnumbered by the migrants, are responsible for providing food and medical care while handling their cases.

“It’s a humanitarian mission,” Millard said. “We are proud to have them on board and get them on the cutter safe and sound. It gives us satisfaction to get them out of that scary situation, even though we know they will probably go back and it may not be what they want or where they want to be. But at least we saved them from possible death at sea.”

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“It really is an evolution of all hands on deck. There are people from every department – ​​cooks preparing meals, our medical staff doing what they do and watchmen from engineering to the operations deck,” added Lt. Cmdr. Jason Lassiter, USCGC Bear’s operations officer.

U.S. Coast Guard crew members work on a cutter at the Coast Guard Sector base in Miami. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Only a small percentage of intercepted migrants will enter the US legally, mostly asylum seekers who can demonstrate a legitimate fear of persecution or torture in their home country. According to Millard, the Coast Guard crew is generally happy for those who find out they have a chance at a new life.

“The government decides if they shouldn’t go back to Haiti because they’re likely to be killed as political prisoners if they go back. So every once in a while we have one or two people who end up becoming US citizens — it’s a very slim chance, maybe 1% of 1%. But when that happens, our crew is so excited for that person — everyone claps when they walk out,” Millard said.

Ensign Michael Pinto, fresh out of the Coast Guard Academy and on his first operational mission, said it was “a hard sight to watch the migrants make the perilous journey”.

US Coast Guard boat. (Francis Dean/Corbis via Getty Images)

“But at the end of the day these ships are not seaworthy and we help them in the long run because most of them are not fit to sail and won’t make it… It’s an overwhelming feeling to deviate to help a ship in distress, to be there and be a light to them was an incredible feeling,” said Pinto.

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The voyages often end in tragedy, with the Coast Guard recording 18 deaths at sea for migrants so far this fiscal year.

Ensign Turner Linafelter, who is also on his operational mission, said the crew has learned to have compassion for those they intercept.

“Captain talked to us about what it means to be an American, what a privilege it is,” Linafelter said. “These people we’re banning just want a better life.”

Michael Lee is a writer at Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @UAMichaelLee


‘Hard sight to see’: Coast Guard crews intercept migrants at sea desperate for US

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