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A federal grand jury indicted five men this week on human smuggling charges in connection to 40 Cubans who landed on Sugarloaf Key in the summer of 2016, which was the height of a wave of migration coming from the communist island country before a major policy change stemmed the flow.
Six months later, the Obama administration, in one of its last significant decisions, ended the controversial wet-foot, dry-foot policy that granted special immigration status to those fleeing Cuba who reached U.S. soil.
In a recently unsealed indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Marcelo Osmany Hernandez-Ibarra, Gerardo Gonzalez-Ortiz, Ernesto Rivera, Yoel Rodriguz Camacho and Nelson Quintero Rodriguez on 38 counts each of encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the United States and one count each of conspiracy to encourage and induce aliens to enter the United States.
If convicted on the first count, the men face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Each of the latter counts carries a five-year maximum prison sentence.
Rodriguez faces an additional charge of making a false statement under penalty of perjury in an immigration status, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Around 6:15 p.m. Monday, July 18, a boat dropped off a group of 40 men and woman, and at least one child. One of the women was pregnant.
Their arrival marked the fourth landing of Cuban migrants in the Keys in two days that week. Although the summer of 2016 was a particularly busy summer for immigration agents in the Keys, that group was unusually large.
Earlier that morning, a group of nine Cuban men arrived at the Ocean Reef Club community on the north end of Key Largo. Around 10 a.m. that day, three came ashore in the Middle Keys incorporated community of Key Colony Beach.
The day before, 13 men arrived from Cuba in Key Largo.
In January 2017, right before President Obama was about to leave office, he ended wet-foot, dry-foot, which allowed those who successfully made the maritime journey from Cuba to the United States to stay and apply for permanent residency after a year. Those stopped at sea by the Coast Guard or other agency were sent back to Cuba.
Ending the policy was part of the softening of diplomatic ties between Washington and the Castro regime. Obama signaled for months prior to ending wet-foot, dry-foot that the policy’s days were likely numbered, prompting a flood of migration from Cuba throughout 2016.
Since then, far fewer people have attempted to make the dangerous journey across the Florida Straits to the U.S.