Coast Guard rescues eight Cuban migrants off Miami, 5 missing

MIAMI Mon Oct 27, 2014 1:25pm EDT

(Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday said it was searching for up to five Cubans migrants after pulling eight others from the waters off Miami.

"Two were rescued in a helicopter basket," said Coast Guard spokesman Gabe Somma.

They were later transported to Miami area hospital, the Coast Guard said.

The agency was notified of three people floating in rubber tubes, Somma said. The Coast Guard dispatched helicopters and ships to find the migrants on Monday morning, and struggled for a short time to rescue one migrant who briefly refused to be pulled from the water, he added.

Under Washington's so-called "wet foot, dry foot policy," Cuban migrants who make it onto U.S. soil are allowed to remain in the United States under a special immigration exception, while those intercepted at sea are turned back.

Haitians and other nationalities who arrive illegally are typically repatriated whether or not they make it ashore.

Cubans are leaving the island in increasing numbers by sea as migrants flee economic reforms to modernize the Communist-controlled island’s economy that they say are failing to improve living standards.

Coast Guard officials recently warned those seeking to reach the United States illegally by sea.

"Don’t do it. Don’t risk your life, or the lives of those you love. Don't become the next soul lost at sea," Captain Mark Fedor, chief of response for the Coast Guard 7th District, said in a statement earlier this month, adding that smugglers would be prosecuted.

According to Coast Guard estimates, 3,722 Cubans tried to illegally reach the Florida coast by sea in the 12 months ending in September, 1,500 more than the previous year.

In recent years, the Coast Guard has attempted to shut down the treacherous Florida Straits, which at only 90 miles at its narrowest point is the shortest route between Cuba and Florida, forcing migrants to take a longer voyage over sea to Honduras.

From there, migrants head north in hopes of crossing the border into Texas.

More than 22,500 Cubans arrived without visas at the U.S. border, the vast majority coming from Mexico, the highest number in more than a decade, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security for the last 12 months ending Sept. 30.