- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

MIAMI (AP) — A federal judge ruled yesterday that the U.S. government acted unreasonably when it sent home 15 Cubans who thought they had made it to the United States safely when their boat reached an abandoned bridge in the Florida Keys.

U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno ordered the federal government to make its best effort to help the 15 return to the United States, said Kendall Coffey, an attorney for the Cubans and their relatives.

Under the federal government’s long-standing “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are generally allowed to stay, while those stopped at sea are sent back.

In this case, the U.S. government argued that the old bridge did not count as dry land because chunks of it are missing and because it is no longer connected to U.S. soil.

The migrants landed on the pilings along a nearly three-mile span of the abandoned bridge Jan. 4, as their small boat began to take on water. Had they landed 100 yards away on the new bridge, the U.S. Coast Guard likely would have allowed them to stay.

Ramon Saul Sanchez, head of Democracy Movement, a Cuban-American advocacy group that joined in the lawsuit, was pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“Really, it is a vindication for all immigrants,” said Mr. Sanchez, who waged an 11-day hunger strike to protest the group’s return to Cuba.

It is not clear whether Cuban leader Fidel Castro would allow the 15 to leave his communist island.

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