MIAMI (AP) _ Twenty-two Cubans rescued after their speedboat capsized and sank on an ill-fated attempt to reach the United States were handed over Friday to immigration officials in Florida.
Two of them face charges of smuggling illegal immigrants, the Coast Guard said. The rest are considered witnesses against the accused smugglers and will be allowed to remain in the United States after they testify, said an Immigration and Naturalization Service official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Coast Guard ship carrying the survivors arrived early Friday in Key West, said Lt. j.g. Sarah Felger. All of the survivors were turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol and driven to the Krome Detention Center near Miami, a guarded facility where illegal immigrants are held until their cases are resolved.
The Coast Guard ended its search late Thursday for a woman and three children presumed dead after the sinking of the speedboat 17 miles off Key West on Wednesday. Two others also drowned.
The INS official said the accused smugglers could be charged in the deaths.
The surviving Cubans could have been returned to the communist island, but investigators determined their testimony is necessary to prosecute the alleged smugglers, the INS official said.
Under immigration law, Cubans who make it to the United States are generally allowed to remain in the country.
There was no comment from the Cuban government about the stranded immigrants. In the past, Havana has accused Washington of not doing enough to stop 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.
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