April 29, 1980 - U.S. braces for magnitude of Mariel Boatlift
Florida and the U.S. realized the magnitude of the Mariel Boatlift and began assembling resources to deal with the influx of Cuban refugees coming ashore in the Florida Keys and Miami area. On April 28, Gov. Bob Graham declared a state of emergency and local leaders began demanding help from the federal government in dealing with the thousands of immigrants fleeing the communist island nation.
Officially, the emigration wave began on April 20, 1980, when Cuban President Fidel Castro announced that all Cubans who wanted to leave for the U.S. were free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana. Cuban exiles in the U.S. rushed to hire boats to pick up relatives at the ports, and U.S. boat captains took advantage by charging thousands of dollars to make the trips. The wave peaked in May, when more than 86,000 Cubans came ashore. By its end in September, more than 1,700 boats had brought in 125,000 refugees.
The wave brought political trouble for U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who had initially agreed to accept a few thousand refugees of the 10,000 seeking asylum in the Peruvian embassy in Cuba. Later it was learned that Fidel Castro forced prison inmates and mental hospital patients to join the flotilla, prompting the U.S. to house thousands in detention camps and federal prisons pending deportation hearings. Nearly 3,000 of the refugees were classified as serious or violent criminals and denied citizenship.
Still, the vast majority were ordinary Cubans. Many were Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, or simply declared "anti-Socialist" in Cuba.
About half of the Mariel immigrants decided to remain in the Miami area permanently.
Read more in the Miami News: New Cuban exodus due here • Read more in history.com: Castro announces Mariel Boatlift