In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Coast Guard picked up 508 Haitians and 1,357 Cubans at sea. Since the new fiscal year began Oct. 1, the Coast Guard has reported picking up 93 Haitians and 117 Cubans.
Officials in the Caribbean also have reported a jump in the number of arrests of Haitians making their way to Puerto Rico. An increasing number of Haitians have tried that route because if they can reach the U.S. territory without getting arrested, they can fly on to U.S. cities such as Miami, Boston or New York with just a driver's license or other identification, not a passport.
Since the 2010 earthquake, more and more Haitians also have fled for Brazil, which initially welcomed Haitians seeking asylum and later said it would issue a limited number of temporary work visas for Haitians.
"When people are desperate, they do desperate things. That's the problem. We're always concerned when people leave by boat and pay these smugglers," said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Miami-based advocacy center Americans for Immigrant Justice.
Haitians interviewed at an immigration detention center in Broward County routinely cite cholera, political unrest, dysfunctional law enforcement, ongoing displacement since the 2010 earthquake and, if they're women, vulnerability to sexual assaults in tent camps as reasons for fleeing Haiti in the hopes of receiving asylum in the U.S., Little said.
Cubans who arrive in the U.S. are generally allowed to stay under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, while those stopped at sea are usually returned home. Other immigrants who make it to land don't receive the same treatment.
The number of migrants who die while crossing the Florida Straits or disappear into South Florida's neighborhoods after successfully reaching shore is unknown.
Kay reported from Miami.