MIAMI (CBSMiami) — It was all hugs, kisses, and smiles for a group of Cuban migrants and their families on New Year’s Day.
The group of 21 that arrived from the communist island just after midnight claim to be the first Cuban migrants to make it to the U.S. in 2017.
Relatives told CBS4 their journey began on Tuesday.
“We were in the water exactly 50 hours,” said migrant Julio Mena Santos.
As they approached Key West, they saw fireworks going off, said the group. It seemed like a scene out of a movie.
Elier Ruiz said he teared up when he saw the fireworks and had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
“There were fireworks and lights everywhere. I thought I was dreaming,” said Ruiz.
Ruiz who will be celebrating his 19th birthday on Tuesday was greeted by family and friends including his father who last saw him 10 years ago.
Ruiz also mentioned 15 days ago he tried to make it to the U.S. but was intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and sent back to Cuba.
The group is not only celebrating a new year with their family but also their newfound freedom
“It’s a blessing for us to come to this country and start a new life and start fresh,” said Mena.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, since October 1, 2016, until the end of the year, a total of 1,547 Cuban migrants were intercepted at sea and 452 actually made to dry land.