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Cuban Migrant Reunited With Miami-Dade Father After 35 Years

MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- A 39-year-old Cuban migrant who spent eight days at sea trying to get to the U.S. was reunited Tuesday with a father who he had not seen in 35 years.

It was an emotional reunion at Church World Services in Doral.

Sixty-year-old Luis Moreno of Northwest Miami-Dade had received a call from Cuba that his son Joel Moreno had finally made it to the U.S.

It was the sixth time that Moreno had tried to make the crossing. Chopper4 was over the Keys Monday when 11 Cuban migrants including Moreno were rescued or swam to shore.

Luis Moreno rushed to Church World Service when he heard his son was there.

"I was speechless," he told CBS4's Peter D'Oench through a translator. "I couldn't speak. I had a knot in my throat. It's not easy. The ocean's an ugly place. You got to be crazy to try it. Whatever life I have left I am going to show my son what I can."

Hearing that, Joel Moreno kissed his father on the cheek.

CLICK HERE To Watch Peter D'Oench's Report 

Moreno swam to Elliot Key after the raft broke apart.

"This is my sixth attempt," he told D'Oench through a translator. "The last five times they caught me in the water and always sent me back."

It was a dangerous crossing in the homemade raft that was powered by a boat motor.

"Six hours before reaching the Keys," he said, "we ran out of gas and had to dump our engine in the water. We got caught up in a cold front and had to start paddling back. The same night our vessel capsized. Everything fell off, our food and water."

Migrants Rescued
(Source: CBS4)

The migrants broke their raft apart, giving each person a piece to hold on to. Eleven migrants were rescued or swam to shore. Two others are still missing.

READ: Search Continues For 2 Missing Rafters; 11 Rescued

"This is the risk we all know about," said Joel Moreno. "It's no secret why people are leaving Cuba. There is no work. In my case, I waited 35 years to see my dad. Also, I don't agree with the government of Cuba. Now I want to enjoy my dad for two full days. I want to get a job and start work. I have two babies in Cuba who are 7-years old and a year and 7 months."

Moreno left a son and daughter and their mother in Cuba as well as an aunt and two cousins.

He said he and the migrants had thought they could make the trip in three days instead of the eight days it took them.

He prays the two missing migrants will be found.

He'll return to Church World Service on Wednesday to take care of some paperwork.

Under this country's "wet foot, dry foot policy," Moreno will most likely be allowed to stay in the U.S. because he made it to shore.

Authorities said at least 3,722 Cubans were intercepted at sea or made it to shore in the last fiscal year, a 75 percent increase.

Most Cuban migrants who flee by sea leave on rafts cobbled together from metal, wood and Styrofoam and powered by a makeshift motor. Scholars estimate one in four migrants to do not survive the journey.

In 1994, rafts carried as many as 35,000 Cuban migrants into the United States.

Activist Ramon Saul Sanchez, President of Democracia and an activist who has taken numerous flotillas to Cuba in the past 20 years, said, "It's a silent exodus growing day by day. People are dying. We don't know how many are dying but we believe a few hundred have died in the past few months."

"I think the reforms announced by Raul Castro gave some hope that change was coming. But that didn't happen," he said. "Now people are confronted with the reality of no freedom, no jobs and no future and so many are taking to the sea and risking their lives."



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