Stop the deadly water games

From the Tampa Tribune

Who killed 24-year-old Amay Machado Gonzalez on a boat racing from Cuba toward freedom in Florida on Saturday?

Was it the smuggling speedboat captain who tried to ram a Coast Guard vessel rather than obey its command to stop? Was it Fidel Castro, whose repressive leadership inspires families with young children to climb aboard homemade rafts and float off on the high seas?

Was it the Coast Guard, which aggressively chased this refugee boat from a terrorist country? Or should we blame the young woman who failed to brace herself and banged her head so hard she died?

Whoever you blame, be sure also to blame Congress for inventing an immigration policy that rewards Cubans who win the death-defying race to shore.

Those caught at sea are sent back home. Those who reach U.S. soil get hearings and an excellent chance to stay. Known as “wet foot, dry foot,” this flawed policy is threatening the safety of our Coast Guardsmen and killing people desperate to touch free, dry land.

Gonzalez is part of an ever-increasing flow of illegal Cuban immigrants encouraged by this bizarre incentive. So far this year, 2,300 Cubans have been caught at sea and 3,200 have reached land, said D. Brian Peterman, Coast Guard commander for the Atlantic area. The Coast Guard expects the crossings from Cuba to set a record for the third year in a row.

In a recent visit to the Tribune, Peterman had high praise for the young Coast Guard crews that patrol the Florida coast. And he pointed out a useful feature of the dry-foot policy: It encourages Cubans who land to declare themselves because a year and a day later they can become legal residents. At least the policy allows authorities to find out who they are.

But the policy also has filled the Florida Straits with the human flotsam of Cuba’s shipwrecked economy. No one knows how many Cubans drown trying to make the crossing.

The Coast Guard must stop every craft because, as Peterman says, “we don’t know who’s on a boat.” It could be drugs or it could be terrorists. Remember, America lists Cuba as an official sponsor of terrorism. And Florida took the added step this year of declaring it a terrorist state.

You would think state leaders would show some concern about immigrants from a terrorist nation trying to outrun the Coast Guard to reach our shore, but nary a word is heard because of the political might of South Florida’s Cuban community.

The United States allows 20,000 Cubans to legally migrate here each year. Perhaps that number should be increased to end the daring boat chases in the Florida Straits. Whatever the number, it should be strictly enforced.

Congress should lock the back door. It should stop inviting folks like Amay Machado Gonzalez to risk a passage that often involves big waves, gunshots, anguish and death.