Cubans pack detention center

More than 50 Cubans were being held in Grand Cayman’s Immigration Detention Center Monday after another boatload docked at Cayman Brac over the weekend. 

The latest craft carried 36 migrants who were transported under guard on two separate flights between Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman after arriving in the Brac Saturday morning. 

They joined a group of 18 Cubans that had to be rescued from the waters southwest of Little Cayman on June 10, who are currently being held there awaiting repatriation. 

While the numbers are significant, they are not overwhelming the capacity of the migrant detention center just yet, said Home Affairs Ministry Deputy Chief Officer Wesley Howell. 

“[54 migrants] wouldn’t put us at the critical stage,” Mr. Howell said, stating that the center could handle between 70 to 75 migrants at maximum capacity. 

The cost of detaining, housing, caring for and eventually repatriating Cuban migrants from Cayman has skyrocketed in the past two years along with the number of illegally landing migrants in local waters. 

In 2014, 143 Cubans landed illegally in Cayman and another 368 passed by the islands on their way to Central America during the year. Those figures dwarf anything the Cayman Islands had seen since 2005-2006. So far this year, the number of Cuban arrivals is on pace to beat those totals, with 160 arriving in Cayman waters in the first three months of 2015. 

According to figures provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which has responsibility for immigration, policing and issues relating to the security and care of Cuban migrants, Cayman spent $1,576,000 during 2014 on migrant-related costs. Those include the costs of detention, feeding, housing, any medical care and transportation upon their return to Cuba. 

In 2013, the government spent $589,000 on migrant detention, care and repatriation. In 2012, that figure was $300,829. In 2011, it was $26,031. 

In 2010 and 2009, government spent nothing on illegally landed Cuban migrants because none arrived in Cayman. 

In the budget just approved by the Legislative Assembly, there was $270,000 set aside for “services for irregular migrants” during the upcoming 2015/16 budget year which begins on July 1. 

Cayman Islands law enforcement officials said earlier this year that it seemed a number of the Cuban travelers believed the American government was about to change the legal policy it has used since the mid-1990s to determine whether landed migrants could remain in the United States. 

The policy, developed under former President Bill Clinton’s administration, allows migrants who reach land to remain in the U.S. through various processes, while those at sea must be repatriated. 

Cayman is typically a stopover point for migrants seeking to reach Honduras and travel through Central America and Mexico into the southern border of the United States, often winding up in Arizona, New Mexico or Texas. The Cubans who arrive in Cayman are generally considered “economic migrants,” but they may apply for political asylum in Cayman. 

The Cayman Islands government agreed to steps as part of a new memorandum of understanding signed with the Cuban government in April that it hoped would speed the repatriation process for migrants who do end up being detained in Cayman waters.  

This group of Cuban boat migrants was spotted by the RCIPS helicopter on June 10 southwest of Little Cayman.