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US Repatriates 58 Cuban Migrants as Immigration Rises

US Coast Guard picture shows Cuban migrants trying to cross the Straits of Florida on a 1951 Chevy flatbed truck turned into a "pontoon" boat. (Gregory Ewald/US COAST GUARD/AFP/File)
US Coast Guard picture shows Cuban migrants trying to cross the Straits of Florida on a 1951 Chevy flatbed truck turned into a "pontoon" boat. (Gregory Ewald/US COAST GUARD/AFP/File)

The United States repatriated 58 Cubans rescued from rafts while trying to reach American shores in dangerous waters, the US Coast Guard said.

They were part of a wave of migration from the communist island nation since the beginning of its rapprochement with the United States.

A Coast Guard patrol boat took the rafters to the Cuban village of Bahia de Cabanas, the agency said in a statement.

They were rescued in the Straits of Florida -- the 90 miles (150 kilometers) of water separating the US state from Cuba -- from seven different boats over the last week.

The Coast Guard has seen a spike in the number of Cubans arriving in the United States by land and sea since Washington and Havana announced they would begin normalizing relations in December 2014.

Cuban migrants who reach the United States are put on a fast track to residency and citizenship under a Cold War-era policy that many fear will be shelved as the two countries normalize relations.

US President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba this week has helped seal the process.

"Immigration policies have not changed and we urge people not to take to the ocean in unseaworthy vessels," Coast Guard Captain Mark Gordon said. "It is illegal and extremely dangerous."

The Coast Guard rescued another 18 Cuban migrants with severe dehydration off Florida's coast on Friday, although nine other members of their group died during the voyage.

More than 43,000 Cubans entered the United States by sea and land during fiscal year 2015 -- which ended in September -- a figure not seen for decades.

Some 2,562 Cubans have attempted to reach US shores on rafts since October 1, the Coast Guard estimates.

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Cuba