Talk of Reform Brings Spike in Caribbean Crossings

ICEAs domestic and international policies shift, U.S. Coast Guard officials say a noticeable spike in illegal immigration efforts is on the rise.

When President Obama announced his executive action on immigration reform in November, some Caribbean nationals took the news as a go signal to make the harrowing boat ride through choppy and shark-filled waters to U.S. soil. The number of Haitian nationals, Dominican Republic nationals and nationals from more than a dozen other Caribbean countries are increasingly being intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In the case of Cuba—a country where the U.S. has imposed sanctions for more than 50 years—nationals who make it to U.S. soil are typically granted refugee status.  After the president’s December announcement for the normalization of relations with the Communist country, however, some nationals of that country erroneously concluded that the blanket amnesty policy would be phased out.

According to a recent story in the Washington Times, rampant rumors in the country said U.S. special immigration policies toward Cubans would end in mid January.  “The changes are merely rumors and no immediate action is pending, but they proved a powerful lure for hundreds trying the dangerous crossing,” the story says.

In the fiscal year that ended on September 30 of last year, the Coast Guard reports it has captured, intercepted or otherwise chased away 5,585 Haitians, 3,940 Cubans and several hundred from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries. For the fiscal year that began October 1 of last year, around 1,920 mostly Cuban and Haitian migrants have been intercepted by the Coast Guard.

Reports say regional smuggling operations can range anywhere from individuals to sophisticated networks. Vessels with hopeful migrants are often overcrowded, unsanitary and highly dangerous

Capt. Mark Fedor, chief of response for the Coast Guard’s 7th District, told one news outlet, “The Coast Guard strongly discourages attempts to illegally enter the country by taking to the sea. These trips are extremely dangerous.”