Wilfredo Lee  /  AP
Federal and state officials man the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday in Doral, Fla., as they begin a two-day training exercise to prepare for a potential mass migration from the Caribbean, such as the one that could occur when Cuban President Fidel Castro dies.
updated 3/8/2007 6:44:57 PM ET 2007-03-08T23:44:57

A law-enforcement exercise to prepare for a possible mass migration as that could occur following a Cuban leadership change coincided Thursday with the arrival of real migrants.

The 41 immigrants arrived at Miami Beach and Haulover Beach in Miami-Dade County and were taken into custody by authorities not involved in the simulation, officials said. It was not clear if the migrants were Cuban.

Such arrivals occur frequently in South Florida, and the simulation of intercepting thousands of migrants at sea went on with more than 85 federal and local law enforcement agencies participating on the second day of the two-day exercise.

Officials have revealed few details, citing security concerns. But they said the training would test how well the agencies can coordinate responses.

The Coast Guard let reporters ride along early Thursday during a staged interdiction of a mock smuggling boat. Other exercises would simply simulate the use of boats and other vehicles.

The morning exercise began with a mock 911 call to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office that said boaters were headed south to Cuba to pick up migrants, Coast Guard Capt. Joe Matheu said. Sheriff’s officials were to alert federal, state and other local officials who could respond.

“We’re exercising the plan just like you exercise your muscles, so you don’t get weak and flabby,” Customs and Border Protection spokesman Zachary Mann said Wednesday.

David W. Kunkel
Wilfredo Lee  /  AP
U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. David W. Kunkel speaks Wednesday to the media at the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center in Doral, Fla.
The simulation covered more than 2,000 immigrants headed to the U.S., though only about a dozen actors posing as migrants or smugglers were actually expected to participate in the training.

It was the largest such exercise since a 2003 presidential directive created the Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to better police the nation’s southeastern borders.

“The exercise will show our unity, and it demonstrates our federal government’s resolve to protect our borders,” said the task force director, Coast Guard Rear Adm. David W. Kunkel.

Kunkel said the goal of the exercise was to stop 95 percent of the simulated migrants at sea.

Cuba experts have voiced concern that Fidel Castro’s death or other significant change in the island’s leadership could spark migrations similar to the Mariel boat crisis in 1980, when Castro temporarily opened the island’s borders. More than 125,000 Cubans fled the country then, surprising U.S. officials, and many who reached the U.S. were held for months in makeshift camps.

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