The controversial “wet foot/ dry foot” policy that allowed Cuban migrants who made it to U.S. soil — including the Marquesas Keys — to stay permanently ended this year. Nearly 40 derelict Cuban refugee boats were removed from the Marquesas by order of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The Marquesas is part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, which President Theodore Roosevelt created in 1908 to protect nesting birds from plume hunters.
I came across these Cuban refugees on the southeast corner of the Marquesas shortly after they arrived. They said they had been on the ocean for four days. Their boat is in the background of the photo.
One of the refugees gave me a phone number and asked me to call his family when I returned to Key West. I stood on the flats boat platform and, remarkably, got a cell signal and dialed Cuba.
The boy with the towel on his head spoke with his mother and told her he had arrived safely. Tears all around. Then the U.S. Coast Guard arrived, and the refugees went back into the mangroves and stood on dry land so they would not be considered “wet foot.”
I never got their names. That was about eight years ago. I wonder, sometimes, how things turned out for the young men.