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Cubans Allowed In

The United States allowed 22 shipwrecked Cubans into the country Friday, 20 as migrants a step closer to their dream of living here, and two as criminal suspects.

The Cubans were brought ashore in Key West and turned over to the Border Patrol at the request of immigration authorities, who interviewed them aboard a Coast Guard rescue ship, Coast Guard Petty Officer Dana Warr said.

Cubans intercepted at sea are usually returned to the communist island under a U.S. immigration policy commonly known as "wet-foot/dry-foot" in which only those who manage to reach shore are allowed to stay.

In the capsizing incident Wednesday, two passengers died and the Coast Guard suspended its search late Thursday for a woman and three children still missing and presumed dead.

Immigration authorities characterized two of the people brought ashore as "alleged smugglers" and the other 20 as "material witnesses," the Coast Guard said.

Officials with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service could not immediately be reached for comment about potential charges.

But investigators said they thought the voyage involved paid smugglers because the vessel was dangerously overloaded and traveling in the middle of the night.

The Cuban migrants were aboard a speedboat that capsized in a storm in the straits that separate Cuba and Florida, south of Key West.


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The survivors were spotted 17 miles southeast of Key West by crew members of the 210-foot coastal freighter Claudia C. The crew pulled 14 people out of the water before two Coast Guard cutters arrived to help.

The rescue effort was hampered by the storm blamed for the accident, which has strengthened into Tropical Storm Barry in the Gulf of Mexico.

Rescuers initially thought another capsized speedboat in the area was related to the accident but later ruled that out.

There was no comment from the Cuban government. In the past, Havana has accused Washington of not doing enough to stop illegal-immigrant smuggling between Cuba and the United States.

It said Cubans are willing to undertake the risky voyage knowing they will be allowed to stay in the United States if they reach shore.

The Coast Guard said it has picked up 481 Cubans at sea this year.

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