Legal action underway to allow lighthouse Cubans to stay in U.S.
A group of Miami lawyers is prepared go to federal court if 19 Cuban
migrants who climbed onto a lighthouse seven miles off the U.S. coast
are repatriated. At issue is whether the lighthouse is considered part
of U.S. territory, giving the migrants the ability to stay under U.S.
SERGIO N. CÁNDIDO
Is a lighthouse that stands seven miles from the coast U.S. territory?
A group of activists and lawyers is ready to take the matter to federal
court for an answer if immigration authorities do not allow a group of
19 Cuban rafters to stay in the country. Two others were plucked out of
"The lighthouse is called 'American' Shoal. It is on a platform in
waters under the jurisdiction of the United States, with funding
provided by the U.S. and, in addition, a historical monument," said
Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Democracy Movement organization.
"Their feet got dry there, in American territory. They should be able to
Sánchez is working with a group of lawyers to take legal action in
federal court in coming days if the migrants are repatriated. If the
case moves forward, it could set a new precedent in U.S. immigration policy.
It drama began to unfold around 8:30 a.m. Friday, when someone spotted
the migrants aboard a makeshift boat and called the U.S. Coast Guard.
After seeing the authorities, the migrants jumped from the boat and swam
to the American Shoal lighthouse, where they stationed themselves for
several hours. They finally agreed to turn themselves over to the Coast
Guard at approximately 5:30 p.m.
Coast Guard spokesman Ryan Doss said Monday that the rafters are still
aboard a Coast Guard cutter in Caribbean waters, where they are being
interviewed by immigration officers to determine their fate.
Under the immigration policy known as "wet foot/dry foot" Cuban migrants
who touch U.S. soil are usually allowed to stay in the country and apply
for permanent residency after one year. Those who are intercepted at sea
are usually returned to the island.
It is not clear if the old iron structure located seven miles from
Sugarloaf Key is considered U.S. territory.
Sánchez and his lawyers say yes, and that history supports their arguments.
In January 2006, a group of 15 Cuban migrants who had reached the old
Seven Mile Bridge were repatriated by immigration officials. The rafters
were intercepted while they were on a portion of the bridge that was not
part of the connection to the mainland. The federal government
understood this to mean that the group never reached U.S. territory and
the migrants were returned to Cuba.
Thanks in part to efforts by Sánchez, who filed a lawsuit and a declared
a hunger strike seeking a reversal to the case, a federal judge ruled
that the immigration authorities had acted illegally. Part of the group
of deportees then received permission to stay in the country.
"Federal Judge Federico Moreno ruled at the time that a bridge, even if
it is separated from the land, is part of the United States. The
lighthouse is administered by the United States, it's part of the
American territory," Wilfredo Allen, an attorney in the case 10 years
ago and part of the team on the current case, told Univision.
THE LIGHTHOUSE IS ADMINISTERED BY THE UNITED STATES, IT'S PART OF THE
Wilfredo Allen, attorney
The lighthouse, which is 109 feet tall, was built in 1880 and stand on
an octagonal platform that is 10 feet deep. In 1990, the structure
served as the image for a 25-cent stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service.
A book published in 1977 titled The International Legal Regime of
Artificial Islands by Nicolas Papadakis, cites the late Attorney General
of England Charles Russell to determine the sovereignty of lighthouses.
"If the lighthouse is built on a rock, or on piles fixed into the
seabed, it becomes part of the territory of the nation that created it,
and as part of the territory it has all the rights that belong to the
protection of the territory, neither more nor less," Russell states.
Doss said they have never dealt with a case like this and that the Coast
Guard will take care of the rafters "as best as possible" until
immigration officials make a determination on their fate.
Meanwhile, Sánchez said he is willing to declare a hunger strike as he
did 10 years ago if the Cubans are not allowed to stay.
"It's in the arsenal of the possibilities, but I do not want to
speculate on that because what I want is for this to be resolved,"
Source: Legal action underway to allow lighthouse Cubans to stay in U.S.
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