- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MIAMI (AP) - Six Cuban migrants were acclimating to their first full day on American soil Tuesday after their boat came ashore on the Miami area’s popular South Beach.

The half-dozen men, part of an uptick in arrivals of Cuban migrants over the past year, kissed the sand and were greeted by beachgoers when they came ashore Monday after what they said was an 11-day journey at sea. They were being processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Miami.

Barbaro Mirabal, 37, a fisherman, told The Associated Press that he celebrated his arrival by pouring sand over himself before borrowing a beachgoer’s cellphone to send word home. He said he came to find a better living and reunite with relatives already in the U.S.

“I have wanted to do this for a long time,” Mirabal said. “To do it the proper way is very difficult and takes a very long time. The fastest way is to hop over the sea.”

Cubans are allowed to stay if they reach U.S. land, and they routinely come ashore in South Florida. The northbound exodus has swelled amid concerns that the U.S. will erase the policy following a thaw in its relationship with the communist-run island.

About 17,000 Cubans reached the U.S. by foot and sea in the last three months of 2015, compared to a little more than 9,200 during the same months in 2014.

With Florida about 100 miles north of Cuba at its closest point, the migrants typically head there and end up anywhere along a 250-mile-wide swath from Key West up to Jupiter, north of West Palm Beach.

This week’s group could barely have had a higher-profile place to make landfall, in a beach-lined area, not far from restaurants and nightclubs and often packed with holiday revelers. Their arrival was captured by beachgoers in cellphone footage, and local broadcasters gave the men prominent coverage.

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This story has been edited to clarify the location of South Beach.

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