19 people from China, three from Ecuador arrive in Florida Keys migrant landing

Nineteen people from China and three from Ecuador arrived in the Florida Keys early Monday morning in what federal officials are calling a human smuggling incident.

The migrants came ashore in Key Largo shortly before 2 a.m., according to Monroe County Sheriff’s Office calls-for-service logs. The Florida Highway Patrol, which said in a statement that its troopers helped U.S. Border Patrol agents catch the arrivals, said the incident happened near mile marker 109.

That would mean the migrants arrived on County Road 905, known locally as Card Sound Road, which runs along a long, remote stretch of wooded land north of the business and residential area of Key Largo.

Agents with Homeland Security Investigations are investigating the landing and declined to provide details. A local law enforcement source said the people were dropped off by a boat that has not been found.

The FHP reported two fewer Chinese arrivals than did the Border Patrol — 11 men and six women. The three people from Ecuador are men.

The highway patrol said in a statement that its troopers were called to the area “at the request of U.S. Border Patrol to set up a secure perimeter and to assist in the apprehension of the suspects.”

There is a much a higher number of FHP troopers assigned to the Keys than normal because of an executive order Gov. Ron DeSantis issued in January in reaction to a surge in maritime migration, mostly from Cuba and Haiti.

The order, which has been extended several times, sent troopers, state fish and wildlife police, Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents and Florida National Guard troops to the island chain.

The influx in police and Guard troops, combined with stepped-up Coast Guard and other federal agency patrols off the Keys, worked to significantly reduce landings from their peak over the Christmas holiday season. But migrant boats and smugglers are still getting through.

A wooden boat is beached in Islamorada in the Florida Keys Sunday, Oct. 21, 2023. The Border Patrol says three people from Cuba arrived on the migrant vessel. U.S. Border Patrol
A wooden boat is beached in Islamorada in the Florida Keys Sunday, Oct. 21, 2023. The Border Patrol says three people from Cuba arrived on the migrant vessel. U.S. Border Patrol

On Sunday, Border Patrol agents said they took three people into custody who landed in Islamorada, in the Upper Keys, on a small homemade wooden boat, with “La Flecha,” or the arrow, painted on the hull.

Homeland Security Investigations is asking anyone with information about Monday’s landing to call the agency’s tip line at 866-347-2423.