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
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,
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