MIAMI — A smuggling operation involving almost two dozen Cuban migrants grew tense and almost deadly last week when the group refused to spend the night in a container on a Redland farm over concerns about a 2-year-old child, several law enforcement sources have confirmed.
Fights broke out. Most of the migrants fled in different directions on the farm. A smuggler chased down and shot one of the migrants, injuring him badly, according to police. Nearby residents who heard the gunshots called police, who were able to round up most, if not all, of the migrants.
The alleged shooter got away. The injured migrant — shot in the stomach and the foot — was taken to a nearby hospital. The remaining migrants who told police they hadn’t eaten in days, were fed and given water.
Miami-Dade County police confirmed it was a smuggling operation gone awry and said they’re investigating the shooting component of the case.
The other aspects of the case, said Miami-Dade Police spokesman Angel Rodriguez, are being handled by the federal government.
Rodriguez said Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue airlifted the wounded man to HCA Florida Kendall Hospital, and that he was in stable condition.
Nestor Iglesias, a spokesman for U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, the lead agency in the case, wouldn’t go into detail about the incident.
“All I can tell you is that it is part of an ongoing investigation by HSI and cannot comment further,” he said.
Not clear how they arrived in South Florida
On Monday, it was still unclear how the migrant group made its way to South Florida.
Law enforcement officials who spoke with some of the migrants believe several of the 20 or so smuggled Cubans were released during the day last Thursday when family came by and paid $15,000 each. But by night’s end, the smugglers decided to keep the remaining migrants locked up in the container over night, or until they got paid.
According to law enforcement sources, police were called to the property at Southwest 194th Avenue and 136th Street, just before 11 p.m. One law enforcement source said there were stolen vehicles and a cock fighting ring on the property.
A neighbor who did not want to be named said he was awakened around 11 p.m. that night by the sound of helicopters and barking dogs.
“They were going nuts,” he said.
The street, which is barely paved in some spots, is lined with a mix of gated estates and nurseries. Drivers not only have to dodge potholes, but packs of stray dogs, which are so unbothered by traffic that they lounge on the road and approach cars as they slow down.
On Friday, the day after the shooting, marked Miami-Dade County police cars were replaced by white pickup trucks and vans, with federal agents in plain clothes walking up and down the street, the witness told the Herald.
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According to police radio dispatch traffic from that night, the man suspected of pulling the trigger drove off in a black Jeep.
Cubans migrating to U.S. in staggering numbers
While it’s not exactly clear how many Cubans have been smuggled into South Florida or the U.S. in recent years, the number of Cubans who have recently migrated here, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, is staggering. About 425,000 Cubans have made their way to the U.S. since 2022.
Steadman Stahl, president of the South Florida Police Benevolent Association, said police need more resources to deal with the influx of human smuggling.
“Human smuggling is real. It’s happening all over the country and Miami-Dade is not immune to it,” he said. “Situations like this is why we need more resources and to pay more attention to it. Especially when there are kids involved.”
A deteriorating political and economic climate, with the persecution of critics of the communist government, is spurring people to leave the island nation. They’re taking to the seas in homemade vessels to make the dangerous journey across the Florida Straits, trekking to the overwhelmed U.S. southern border with Mexico, or, as in this case, paying smugglers to take them to South Florida by boat.
“That’s the tragedy of the Cuban people,” Ramon Saul Sanchez, founder of the Cuban exile advocacy group, Democracy Movement, told the Herald. “Every day we see another reminder of this tragedy. It never ends.”