A year ago, U.S. Coast Guard vessels plying the waters between Florida and Cuba were busy stopping dozens of Cuban migrants each and every month.
Today, Coast Guard cutters are still operating in the Florida Straits — but Cuban migrants are harder to find.
That's because fewer undocumented Cubans are leaving the island for the United States, not only through the traditional route across the Florida Straits but also through the newer route across the Yucatán Channel to the Mexican border.
The sharp decline is evident in the number of Cubans intercepted in the Florida Straits and those landing on South Florida beaches.
Consider: In the 12-month period between Oct. 1, 2007 and Sept. 30, 2008 — the federal fiscal year — almost 2,200 Cubans were interdicted in the Florida Straits and almost 3,000 landed on area beaches. But with less than a week left in the current fiscal year, less than 1,000 Cubans have been stopped at sea and less than 600 have made it to land.
And even the number of Cubans arriving at the Mexican border, the most popular route, is down from the previous fiscal year: 5,621 versus 10,030.
No one knows precisely why fewer Cuban migrants are arriving in the United States.
But U.S. officials, experts on Cuban affairs, recently arrived Cubans and community leaders cited several possibilities: the U.S. recession, stepped-up enforcement in the Florida Straits, Mexico's toughened migrant policies or less restrictive U.S. Cuba policies. Others suggest that we should not read too much into the current numbers.
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