Five citizens of the Dominican Republic were charged on Tuesday with alien smuggling
AGUADILLA, Puerto Rico -- US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), US Coast Guard (USCG) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), operating under the Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG) apprehended 57 undocumented migrants from Haiti, Dominican Republic and Brazil, attempting to enter Puerto Rico’s west coast during separate incidents last Friday and Sunday. Nineteen migrants will be prosecuted for violations to US immigration law; five of them for alien smuggling.
A makeshift wooden vessel navigating east in the Mona Passage was detected on Friday by a CBP Office of Air and Marine (OAM) Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), maintaining surveillance for USCG Cutter Escanaba to intercept. The cutter reached the vessel in the vicinity of Mona island, where the vessel failed to heave to when USCG requested the vessel operator to stop within US waters.
The vessel was intercepted two miles off the coast of Mona island, finding 18 Haitians and 2 Dominican Republic nationals. CBP border patrol agents assumed the custody of the two Dominican Republic nationals, Melvin Rafael Ramirez-Morales and Hestor Mariano Ramirez-Diaz, who appeared on Tuesday before US Magistrate Judge Bruce McGivering charged with bringing illegal aliens, and failure to heave to a federal law enforcement officer.
The remaining 18 Haitian migrants were repatriated by USCG to Cap-Haitien, Haiti.
Near midnight on Sunday, a CBP Office of Air and Marine (OAM) Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) detected a vessel, with no navigational lights, approximately 40 nautical miles northwest of Aguadilla, as it was traveling east at approximately 7 knots. The MPA maintained constant surveillance of the vessel as the USCG Cutter Escanaba was deployed to intercept it.
USCG Cutter Escanaba intercepted the vessel, where 37 undocumented aliens (32 males and 1 female from the Domican Republic; and 4 males from Brazil) were found. On board the cutter biometric information was taken, resulting in the identification of 17 aliens with prior immigration records. USCG cutter Matinicus transported the aliens to Mayaguez where CBP Border Patrol Agents and ICE Special Agents assumed custody for prosecution.
Three citizens of the Dominican Republic will make an initial appearance on Friday before US Magistrate Judge Silvia Carreno-Coll, charged with bringing in illegal aliens.
The remaining 20 aliens were repatriated by USCG to Cap Cana, Dominican Republic.
“Crossing the Mona Passage is a treacherous voyage filled with many dangers that pose a huge risk to migrants,” said Ramiro Cerrillo, chief patrol agent for the CBP Ramey Border Patrol Sector. “We reiterate our message that potential migrants should not be fooled by false promises made by criminal organizations that organize such perilous journeys.”
The illegal maritime smuggling ventures arriving to Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic are ordinarily transported in rustic, homemade wooden vessels commonly referred to as "yolas." A typical “yola” is an unsafe vessel, generally underpowered with a single outboard motor, and overloaded with a large number of passengers and without life vests. Every year CBP receives both confirmed and unconfirmed reports of aliens drowning while in transit to United States territory.
According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, while smuggling by sea accounts only for a small portion of overall migrant smuggling around the world, the particular dangers of irregular travel at sea make it a priority for response; due to the reported fact that more deaths occur by sea.
Eighty miles separate the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico. At the approximate mid-point lies the island of Mona, an uninhabited island that is a United States territory. Professional alien smugglers in the Dominican Republic strategically navigate to and use Mona island as a drop off point for migrants who must then be recovered from Mona and transported to Puerto Rico by CBP or USCG air or marine assets.
The Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG) was formally created to unify efforts of the US Customs and Border Protection, the US Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico Police Joint Rapid Action Forces (FURA, for its Spanish acronym), in their common goal of securing the Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands borders against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.