By Jacqueline Quynh

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A large group of migrants was picked up overnight in northern Key Largo.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, just before 12:30 a.m., they arrived near the gated Ocean Reef community.

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The vessel had 176 people on board, with around 10 people needing medical evaluation and attention.

“Everyone was removed from the vessel. There were four patients total. Two adult patients and two pediatric patients were transported by ground to a local area hospital,” according to a statement by Miami Dade Fire rescue.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said three buses were used to transport the migrants to a holding facility.

This was the third time in as many months, migrants have come ashore in the upper Keys.

On Christmas Eve, a group of 52 migrants landed on Card Sound Road in Key Largo.

In November 2021, a group of 63 Haitian migrants arrived aboard a sailboat in the Upper Florida Keys.

“The choice is, ‘Do you keep yourself and your loved ones in hell or do you go for the country that promises safety and haven?’” Juan Carlos Gomez asked.

Gomez is director of the Costa Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at FIU College of Law.

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While video of a new vessel making it to shore continues to surface, what’s not apparent is the picture of chaos driving so many to flee.

“I stay in touch with many groups inside the island, particularly young Cubans that after the July protest that we saw across the island, they expected change and of course very little came out of it,” Dr. Andy Gomez said.

Gomez is the former University of Miami Dean of International Studies.

“The frustrations continue to grow. It’s not just for a political change, it’s the pandemic, the economy is on the floor,” he explained.

At the same time, U.S. immigration policy has moved little to welcome and streamline the process of new immigrants.  It’s also been slowed down because of the pandemic.

“One of the most shameful things on our side is we’ve often dismissed Haitian and now Cubans, it’s interesting to see that evolution of the situation where US officials will say oh, they’re economic refugees,” Gomez added.

The U.S. Coast Guard recently released, so far in 2022 586 Cubans have been picked up trying to migrate.  In fiscal 2019, it was 313.  In 2020 49.  It grew in 2021 to 838.  However back in 2016, that number was 5,396.  The number for Haitians picked up at sea in 2021 was 1,527, a dramatic increase over the past year, 418.

“What happens if Cuba stops allowing us to return patriate them? Actually, we only have one option, which is to take them to our Guantanamo base,” Juan Gomez wondered.

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Both experts agree, the lack of action by lawmakers is making the immigration problem much worse, and likely to push more migrants to attempt coming here by sea.

Jacqueline Quynh