On Monday, I got to go up in the air on a routine search-and-rescue flight out of Coast Guard Air Station Miami. The flight crew surveyed roughly 700 miles of open waters looking for people trying to illegally enter the United States.
"Coast Guard's main mission is search-and-rescue so we get on out here, that's our main concern," Lt. Katrina Prout said, the aircraft's pilot, said. "Even though these people are from a different country, we're all still people at the end of the day and we're concerned about their safety of life at sea."
Just about 30 minutes into this flight, the crew found something while over Bahamian waters — a boat believed to be from Haiti. The aircraft circled overhead for several hours while crews on boats made contact and attempted a rescue.
The Haitian boat was located about 75 miles southeast of Key Largo.
For decades, Haitians have attempted the route that goes past the Bahamas to South Florida. But this is the busiest the Coast Guard has been since 2004. The Coast Guard has intercepted nearly 3,900 Haitians since October 2021.
"I think there might be a misperception that if anybody can get to the country, they're here but that's definitely not true," Prout said. "We are not allowing people to just come into the country. And risking your lives on this journey, you're risking everything."
The Coast Guard stopped 63 Haitians on Monday morning. In the prior week, crews stopped more than 160 people.
"We are definitely seeing more people than we saw when the pandemic was in full force," Petty Officer 1st Class Nicole Groll, a coast guard spokesperson, said. "The boats are rustic, they're pieced together with very basic materials and that barely float."
The Coast Guard is doing more patrols of the Caribbean Sea. But with hurricane season coming up, officials hope migrants avoid the voyage.
"We ask the family members here in the U.S. not to encourage illegal migration," Groll said. "It's just not safe."
At least 175 Haitians have died this year trying to make it to the United States. And that number is only from boats that the Coast Guard is aware of.