The Week of Obama's Visit, Scores of Cubans Are Forced to Return to the Island

This was one of the boats intercepted last week.EXPAND
This was one of the boats intercepted last week.
Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

Call it irony.

The week of President Obama's visit, during which he talked about freedom and justice, 58 Cubans were sent back to the island, the U.S. Coast Guard reported last night.

They set off in small boats with homemade sails like the one pictured above. Seven times, the migrants were picked up. And then the U.S. Coast Guard's Charles David Jr., a 154-foot fast-response cutter, took them all back home.

"Immigration policies have not changed, and we urge people not to take to the ocean in unseaworthy vessels," Capt. Mark Gordon, chief of enforcement for the Coast Guard 7th District, said. "It is illegal and extremely dangerous.”

The number of Cubans taking to the sea to flee the island has ballooned in recent months because many fear that immigration policies will make it harder for them to gain status in the future. Since October 1, about 2,600 Cubans have tried to reach Florida by sea. A huge majority has been returned home. 

But listen to Obama when describing the Florida Straits in his speech to Cubans this week:  "Those waters [have] been crossed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles on planes and makeshift rafts, who came to America in pursuit of freedom and opportunity, sometimes leaving behind everything they owned and every person that they loved."

So the president most definitely understands why Cubans take to the sea. Indeed, in September, Obama took a swipe at Donald Trump for proposing a wall to block thousands of Mexicans from crossing the border into the United States. “We see greater polarization, more frequent gridlock, movements... that insist on stopping the trade that binds our fates to other nations, calling for the building of walls to keep out the immigrants,” the president said.

Obama has taken a stab at immigration reform, but neither he nor Congress has done much to help clean up the mess — or even to address the thorny issue of rafts at sea. Though he has used his executive power, his failure on immigration — including dealing with the Cuban issue — will likely stand as one of his greatest failures, not to mention his greatest frustrations.

That is a sad part of his legacy — and our own.

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