Some years ago I had the pleasure of driving the Overseas Highway
in the far south of Florida, a string of bridges and causeways that
connects a chain of islands, the Florida Keys, to the mainland and to
Among its engineering marvels is the Seven Mile Bridge,
which takes the road across a stretch of open ocean. Beside it, you can
see the pilings of the original bridge, first built for a railway in
the early 20th century.
What is the point of this little travelogue? Well, recall the
controversy here when the Howard government, post-Tampa, tried to
frustrate asylum seekers by legislating to exclude offshore islands
from Australia’s “migration zone” – that is, to allow them to be
summarily deported unless they succeed in actually reaching the
The United States has not dared to go that far. But it has a policy
with a similar purpose, delightfully known as “wet-foot, dry-foot”,
under which refugees must reach land before they can claim asylum. Most
Cubans who do so are found to be genuine refugees, but those who are
picked up at sea are usually just sent back without a hearing.
Last week, a group of 15 Cubans
was found on one of the pilings of the old Seven Mile Bridge, one that
is used for fishing but no longer connected to dry land. They claimed
that that counts as an island, so they had “dry feet”. But the Coast
Guard disagreed, and back to Cuba they went.
Refugee advocates are trying to get the policy changed, at least to the extent of allowing legal representation for those who reach US territorial waters.