Over Protest, U.S. Returns 15 Cubans

Associated Press
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

MIAMI, Jan. 9 -- Fifteen Cubans who fled their homeland and landed on an abandoned bridge piling in the Florida Keys were returned to Cuba on Monday after U.S. officials concluded that the structure did not constitute dry land.

Under the government's "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, Cubans who reach dry land in the United States are usually allowed to remain in this country; those caught at sea are sent back.

The Cubans thought they were safe Wednesday when they reached the Old Seven Mile Bridge. But the bridge, which parallels a newer one, is missing several chunks, and the Cubans reached pilings from a section that does not touch land.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil said officials in Washington determined the Cubans should be considered "feet wet" because they were not able to walk to land.

"We believe the law was misapplied because they entered U.S. territorial waters and more importantly, they touched a piece of bridge that was clearly under the United States' control," said William Sanchez, an attorney for relatives of the Cubans. He said he would sue to bring the 15 back.

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