Posted on Saturday, 10.30.10
Convictions curbing migrant arrivals, officials say
Now that hundreds of migrant smugglers are serving prison terms, federal officials say there has been a major drop in the number of undocumented Cuban migrants reaching South Florida shores. BY ALFONSO CHARDY
The number of Cuban migrants arriving in the United States from Cuba has declined partly because hundreds of smugglers are now in prison as a result of a federal crackdown, according to immigration officials.
At least 546 migrant smugglers have been criminally charged in more than 300 federal indictments in South Florida since 2006 and most of these defendants have been convicted and are now serving prison sentences, said Kevin Crowley of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement homeland security investigations.
“The amount of people we have put in prison plus other factors have contributed to the decline in numbers,” said Crowley, assistant special agent in charge in Miami. “There are people incarcerated right now who cannot smuggle.”
Recent figures released by several federal agencies showed that the number of Cubans interdicted by the Coast Guard or arriving from Mexico was way down. The figures cover undocumented Cuban migrants, not the estimated 20,000 annual immigrant visas issued by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
The figures showed that fewer than 7,000 undocumented Cubans were interdicted or arrived at the border during the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30 — a huge drop from the peak of almost 20,000 in 2007.
When the figures emerged in early October, federal officials cited a number of factors behind the decline, including the U.S. economic crisis, which makes it tougher for relatives to pay smugglers’ fees, and more efficient Coast Guard and Border Patrol methods.
Since 2006, the number of indictments and arrests of migrant smuggling suspects has been rising, largely because of cases investigated by ICE special agents, Crowley said. The cases are brought to the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida.
ICE obtained 35 indictments against 61 defendants in 2006.
Om 2007, that was followed by 60 indictments against 113 defendants.
In 2008, 125 indictments were issued against 217 defendants.
In 2009, 52 indictments were issued against 83 defendants.
So far, in 2010, there have been 56 indictments against 72 defendants, Crowley said.
Some Cuba migrant smugglers have received stiff sentences.
In November 2008 in Fort Pierce, for example, a human smuggler was sentenced to six life sentences plus a consecutive 32-year term for smuggling and narcotics trafficking conspiracies that resulted in the deaths of three foreign nationals.
In April this year, two Cuban nationals involved in a Haulover beach vessel grounding were charged with migrant smuggling in a venture that resulted in the landing of 15 migrants and the grounding of a multimillion-dollar yacht.