Feds rescue 12, including 2 toddlers from overloaded raft off Florida Keys

As they patrolled Florida’s southern coast Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations Key Largo Marine Unit spotted 12 migrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally in rickety and overloaded raft.

To make matters worse, the migrants included two toddlers.

Concerned about the well-being of the children onboard, the agents immediately put a plan into action that included adding a U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer to the their unit. CBP agents easily outmaneuvered the boat, took custody of the migrants, and then transferred them to a U.S. Coast Guard cutter.

“A well-coordinated effort between the U.S. Coast Guard and our highly-trained agents led us to safely interdict these migrants,” said Tony Arevalo, director of marine operations for CBP’s Miami Air and Marine Branch.

Agents, who deemed the migrant vessel a “hazard to navigation,” destroyed it.

These migrants were just 12 of some 2,000 to 3,000 people a year who leave Cuba, braving dangerous seas, in an effort to escape the communist regime, but are caught before they reach American shores.

There’s great incentive for Cuban migrants to reach U.S. shores, as 4,000 of them do each year, because under what’s known as a "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, they are allowed to stay in the U.S. on parole status, and after a year, can apply for permanent residency. However, if they are caught at sea, the U.S. Coast Guard returns them to the island nation.

Cubans are the only illegal immigrants to be offered such status. In comparison, some 4.4 million immigrants are on a waiting list to enter the U.S. legally, with some waiting for up to 15 years for admission.

One year ago, President Obama announced that after more than 50 years, America would change its relationship with Cuba by lifting the embargo, thus “re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies; facilitating greater travel and commerce; connecting more Americans and Cubans; and promoting the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.”

But that political decision had repercussions. Since Obama’s announcement, the number of Cubans attempting to cross into the U.S. has increased, because they fear a policy change may one day subject them to deportation.

Using vessels and aircraft to find the migrants, the Coast Guard Customs and Border Protection agents look for any smugglers with people, drugs or other contraband and work to keep terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country.