Some 21 Cubans landed in Cayman Brac on Sunday and were taken into custody by authorities prior to their pending transfer to Grand Cayman.
The 12 men and nine women aboard the makeshift craft asked to disembark, saying their vessel was having engine problems.
Once the group is sent to detention on Grand Cayman, the total number of migrants in Immigration Department custody – barring any immediate repatriations – will be 67.
The Immigration Detention Centre in the Fairbanks area of George Town can hold about 60 migrants safely, but several of the illegal immigrant Cubans now being held in Cayman are either being housed in prison or in a hotel due to various circumstances.
Prisons Director Neil Lavis, who has oversight responsibility for immigration detention, said in late March that two Cubans who were serving time for illegal landing in the islands were at Northward Prison.
Four other migrants, including a pregnant woman and a juvenile who apparently made a trip with a parent from Cuba earlier this year, are being kept in a hotel, Mr. Lavis said.
The pregnancy presents a specific set of difficulties for local law enforcement officials, both medically and legally. Women past 28-weeks of pregnancy are sometimes not allowed to fly due to risks of entering premature labor. Also, if the child is born in Cayman, it has the potential to become “stateless,” since it typically would not be given Caymanian status and Cuban authorities might not accept the child back into their country. Both issues present problems with repatriation.
The number of Cubans being housed on Grand Cayman awaiting repatriation was between 130 and 140 earlier this year, forcing the department to use local community centers in the less-populated eastern districts of Grand Cayman to provide shelter for them.
The number of Cuban arrivals began falling off in February and by the end of March the local community centers had been cleared out, officials confirmed.
Typically, the Cuban boaters are classified as economic migrants, fleeing poor wages in their home country and seeking entry to the U.S. via Central America and Mexico.
If the migrants come ashore, or inform Cayman authorities that they wish to be taken into custody, they are housed at the detention center to await their repatriation – a process that often takes months. In recent months, with more Cuban arrivals, the repatriation process has been unable to keep up.
“International law prohibits the Cayman Islands from facilitating illegal migration,” a statement from the department noted Monday. “The Immigration Department notes that the restriction on assistance is in part due to the dangerous and potentially fatal journey which such individuals face.”