Washington: The number of Cubans trying to reach the US illegally by sea surged in December, after Havana and Washington announced a landmark rapprochement, the US Coast Guard said.
President Barack Obama and Cuban counterpart Raul Castro announced December 17 that the two countries would revive diplomatic ties severed during the Cold War and move to ease the five-decade US trade embargo.
In December, the US Coast Guard plucked 481 Cuban men, women and children trying to reach Florida from rickety often homemade boats -- double the number from a year earlier, the coast guard said.
The figure represents a 117 percent increase from December 2013, said Rear Admiral Jake Korn, Coast Guard 7th District commander.
On the first few days of January 2015, another 96 Cuban migrants were picked up at sea, the coast guard said.
The surge might suggest more Cubans believe it is time to risk crossing the shark-infested Florida straits, for the United States, since US bilateral policy changes are now afoot.
At present, the United States allows every Cuban who arrives on American soil to receive US residency, and the right to work.
It is the only country whose nationals are granted this blanket privilege. They also are guaranteed limited health care coverage -- a benefit not even every American is guaranteed.
Those Cubans who are picked up at sea however are repatriated to the Americas` only communist country. The dichotomous policy is nicknamed "wet foot/dry foot."
Still, "the administration`s recent announcement regarding Cuba does not affect immigration policies including wet foot/dry foot or the Cuban Adjustment Act - which only Congress can change," Korn stressed.
"The administration`s recent announcement regarding Cuba does not affect immigration policies including wet foot/dry foot or the Cuban Adjustment Act -- which only Congress can change," he added.
US authorities aim to prevent any mass exodus, particularly since Cuba is in a period of extreme economic difficulty.
In 2014, the number of illegal Cuban migrants arriving by sea rose 75 percent, to 3,722 from 2,129 a year earlier.