U.S. immigration policies haven't changed since President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington in December 2014, and for over a year the Coast Guard has warned migrants and their relatives in the U.S. that no change is imminent.
But an ongoing surge in Cubans fleeing their homeland by sea is fueled by fears they soon will lose the "wet-foot, dry-foot" benefits that allow those reaching U.S. land to stay and pursue citizenship, according to the chief of response for the Coast Guard's 7th District in Miami.
Security has been increased for Cuban migrants aboard Coast Guard vessels because more are jumping overboard, trying to poison themselves or suffering self-inflicted wounds in frantic attempts to be taken to U.S. shore for treatment, Capt. Mark Fedor said.
"It's been a dangerous uptick. The last six months, it's come to a head," Fedor said.
According to a Coast Guard tally provided to The Associated Press, compiled from crew reports of migrant hostility over the last six months, several makeshift vessels carrying a dozen or more Cuban migrants refused to stop for U.S. authorities, leading them on slow pursuits for hours before surrendering.
Among other incidents in the tally, two Cuban migrants were found with self-inflicted gunshot wounds, one migrant drank bleach before abandoning a rustic vessel, one migrant threatened officers with a machete and three separate times, migrants jumped overboard from Coast Guard cutters.
The agency said one group of 18 migrants refused lifejackets and used oars to try to fend off the Coast Guard, and another group of eight migrants who refused to stop for 72 hours attempted to light a Molotov cocktail before complying with orders to stop.
A handful of violent incidents with non-compliant migrants from Cuba, Haiti or elsewhere in the Caribbean are routinely reported each year by Coast Guard crews. Rarely are the migrants involved brought to shore.