Over the weekend, more than a dozen illegal immigrants from Russia and other Eastern European countries were trafficked into Key West, Florida, as the war between Russian and Ukraine rages on.
According to Alyson Crean, a Key West Police Department spokeswoman, a boat departed Cuba and docked in Key West around 4 in the afternoon on Sunday. Authorities were called to the scene after 15 Eastern European illegal immigrants walked into Southernmost Beach Café,” the Washington Post reported.
City police then notified the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection of the situation.
“They docked on a pier there and disembarked and went into the cafe,” Crean noted.
The DHS confirmed the illegal immigrants were smuggled into the United States on a sport-fishing boat. Officials said nine were from Russia, four were from Kazakhstan and two were from Kyrgyzstan. The group was taken into Border Patrol custody and is facing deportation.
“Smugglers have no regard for the lives of migrants, and far too many lives are lost at sea as individuals take the dangerous journey in makeshift boats, rafts, and other vessels ill-equipped to handle the rough waters,” DHS spokesman Eduardo Maia Silva said in a statement, adding that those “attempting to enter the United States by sea, without a lawful basis to enter, will be subject to removal.”
Monroe County officials said witnesses to the landing reported the 15 Eastern European illegal immigrants were part of a larger group made up of around 40 people. It is unclear if DHS officials are searching for the remaining individuals.
Mayor David Rice said officials treated the incident as a “national security event.”
“This is something different and new,” he said. “All we ever do when we have migrants land of any nationality is to make sure they are safe, but these people were not like the usual migrants. They were well-dressed, on a chartered boat, and hadn’t been adrift for a week.”
County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said the event is not necessarily indicative of a change in illegal immigrant migration patterns.
“Anything is possible, but we need more data, intelligence or landings to show this is something unusual versus an anomaly,” Ramsay said, adding that he does not believe the incident presents an ongoing threat to the public.
Last month, in a secret agreement with Mexico, the United States admitted Russian citizens who fled after their nation invaded Ukraine. The group of 35 Russians was camped out at the U.S.-Mexico border for a week before officials quietly brought them into the U.S. through a border checkpoint last week that has been closed for months.