TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Frank Diaz knows how dangerous the journey can be for Cuban migrants risking everything for freedom and opportunity in the United States.

“I know that desperation can make you do a lot of things,” he said.

Diaz was 10 years old when he arrived in Key West as part of the mass emigration of Cubans during the Mariel boatlift.

“As a young kid, I saw people in smaller boats sink and lost their lives,” Diaz said, “so that left an impression on my life.”

Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) presented the Hillsborough County Middle School principal with an American Dream Award Thursday evening.

“For me, it means a great deal because I was able to share it with my uncle who is the one that risked his life to go across the Gulf to come and get us, my family,” Diaz said.

Twice this month, the Carnival Cruise ship Paradise has come to the aid of Cuban migrants at sea.

These dramatic rescues come as U.S. officials report a rise in Cubans fleeing their country in the year since protests against the communist regime on the island and here in Florida.

“They have food shortages, fuel shortages and yet when people protest peacefully in the streets they lock them up,” Castor said.

8 On Your Side has learned that U.S. Customs and Border Protection released two dozen migrants from a rescued ship earlier this month to family members and served them with a notice to appear before an immigration judge.

“They should be granted work permits and the law allows that,” Castor said. “What should not happen is what the DeSantis administration said that we’re gonna bus people out of state.”

The congresswoman was reacting to comments last week by Lt. Governor Jeannette Nunez suggesting Cubans in Florida illegally should be bused to Delaware.

When they’re not trying to reach this state by boat, U.S. officials said in the past year more than 175,000 Cubans have entered the country via the Southern Border with Mexico.