Undocumented Haitian migrant nabbed off Puerto Rico

The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency says its Air and Marine Operations (AMO) and the Puerto Rico Police Department have intercepted a wooden “yola” type vessel with 34 undocumented migrants from the Dominican Republic and Haiti attempting to enter off the western coast of Puerto Rico.

CBP said on Friday that tour men were transported to the island and faced criminal charges.

Melvin Almonte-Gutierrez, Alfonso Rodriguez, Nicolas Santos and Lucas Dela Cruz-Alvarez, citizens of the Dominican Republic, appeared before US Magistrate Judge Marcos Lopez facing charges for violation of Title 8 United States Code Section 1326 for attempting to re-enter after a previous deportation, CBP said.

It said that near 2 am on Wednesday, a CBP DHC-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) crew detected a small 25-foot wooden “yola” vessel with one outboard engine, with more than 20 persons on board, heading eastbound towards Rincon, Puerto Rico.

The CBP MPA maintained surveillance, coordinating with a PPRD Joint Forces for Rapid Action (FURA, for its Spanish acronym) marine unit, intercepting the vessel eight miles off the coast, CBP said.

Thirty migrants, 31 men and three women — 33 from the Dominican Republic and one Haitian — were transferred on board of the US Coast Guard cutter Vigilant for initial processing, CBP said.

It said that following the Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG) guidelines, all migrants were processed using biometric technology to determine prior immigration encounters or criminal records.

CBP said the four defendants were transported to the Mayaguez Port, where Border Patrol agents assumed custody for prosecution. US Coast Guard repatriated the remaining migrants.

“We will apply consequence in such cases when a migrant attempts to re-enter illegally after a prior deportation,” said Ramiro Cerrillo, chief patrol agent at the Ramey Border Patrol Sector. “Nonetheless, it is our duty to reiterate our cautionary message to all migrants who attempt to make such a dangerous voyage.”

If convicted, CBP said the defendants face a fine or between 10 to 20 years of incarceration, or both.

“Air and marine agents are diligent to coordinate with partners any smuggling attempts through our coastal areas,” said Johnny Morales, director of Air Operations at the CBP Caribbean Air and Marine Branch.

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