Intercepted Cuban migrants brought to US
They will testify against 3 accused of smuggling
Arnedi Uralde (right) made an emotional plea for his family, who attempted to reach Florida from Cuba. At left his father, Augustin, and Cuban advocate Ramon Saul Sanchez (center). (AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee)
MIAMI -- Twenty-eight Cuban survivors of a deadly attempt to reach Florida earlier this month have been brought to the United States to help authorities prosecute three men accused of smuggling them, officials said yesterday.
US policy states that if Cuban migrants reach land, they may stay in the country, and the migrants were ecstatic when they got the news. ``They were very happy, screaming, and yelling, in the Cuban style," said Ramon Saul Sanchez , head of the Cuban exile group Democracy Movement.
The migrants had been held on a Coast Guard cutter since July 8, when a sea chase ended with the death of one woman aboard the group's speedboat. They were brought to land Wednesday under material witness warrants in the smuggling case, and were to appear yesterday afternoon in federal court in Miami, US Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said.
The decision to let the migrants stay was needed so Acosta's office could carry out ``a complete investigation and a vigorous prosecution of all individuals associated with this incident," he said.
``Smugglers often treat migrants as if they were human cargo, with blatant disregard for individual life and safety. This must stop," he said in a statement.
The migrants' speedboat had been intercepted by the Coast Guard about 4 miles south of Boca Chica in the Florida Keys.
One passenger, 24-year-old Anei Machado Gonzalez, died after hitting her head when the boat operator ignored orders to stop and attempted to ram a Coast Guard vessel, authorities said.
Two other migrants aboard the speedboat -- one a pregnant woman and the other a man who was ill -- had previously been brought to the United States and are not subject at this point to material witness warrants.
The three men accused of smuggling are being held without bail. If convicted, they could face life in prison, Acosta said.
Some migrants may testify before a grand jury or in a trial.
Bringing the migrants to the United States means they can stay in the country. Under the US ``wet foot/dry foot" policy, most Cubans who reach US soil are permitted to remain, while those interdicted at sea are returned home.
After one year, the 28 will be eligible to become permanent legal residents and later could apply for citizenship.