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Debate Over Cubans' Arrival Heads To Federal Court

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) --  Lawyers for a group of Cubans currently in U.S. Coast Guard custody filed a motion in federal court to allow all of them to stay in the United States.

The group of 21 reached the the American Shoal Lighthouse about five miles off Sugarloaf Key last week - spot that may or may not be considered U.S. soil. If it isn't, they 'll be sent back. If it is, then they'll stay under the Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy.

"Hopefully it will stop the Coast Guard from sending them back to Cuba,"said immigration attorney Virlenys Palma."We are providing the pictures and the history of the lighthouse to say it is under U.S. territory and managed by the U.S."

Meantime, the Cuban migrants remain on board a Coast Guard Cutter at sea.

Attorneys for the Cubans are relying on a 2006 federal court settlement in which a group of Cuban migrants made it to the old 7-Mile-Bridge and the judge allowed them to stay.

It's a ruling Cuban exile activist Ramon Saul Sanchez says sets precedent. But legal experts argue the previous federal judge simply agreed to a settlement to allow those Cubans to be given visas, but that the judge never weighed in on whether the bridge was considered U.S. soil.

Amid the territory debate is also some confusion on who actually made it.

Relatives in South Florida have given the Democracy Movement 38 names of those believed to have left Cuba at the same time but the Coast Guard found only 21.

Family members learned the others may have been detained in the Bahamas. So the question remains - who is on board?

Many of the relatives went to the offices of South Florida members of Congress Monday to plead for help. Congressman Carlos Curbelo says this is in the administration's hands.

Late Monday, Curbelo's office told the Democracy Movement activists they are working with the Coast Guard to speed up the process of identifying those on board that cutter at sea.

As for when there will be a decision on the matter, Palma says "normally we should get a status conference within the next 48 hours."

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