A group of 27 illegal immigrants17 men, eight women and two female childrenboarded the 6 a.m. VITRAN bus in Coral Bay early Monday morning, March 20, but were intercepted by V.I. Police Department (VIPD) officials before reaching the ferry dock in Cruz Bay.
The calls started coming in around 1 a.m. on Monday morning, March 20, that there were a number of illegals coming through the Coral Bay area, said VIPD spokesperson Sgt. Thomas Hannah. Calls continued to come in that morning and then we got a call saying that they got on the VITRAN bus.
The full-size VITRAN bus on the 6 a.m. run was full, with standing room only, after 27 immigrants came out of the bush and boarded, according to a Coral Bay resident who was already on the bus.
Out of the Bush
One man had boarded and paid the driver for a number of fares and directed him to stop a short way down the road before the regular Coral Bay stop at the intersection of Routes 10 and 107 where a large group crowded on to the bus, according to the passenger.
They came out of the bush between where Pickles used to be and the corner (of Centerline Road and South Shore Road), said the resident. It seemed that they came from behind Pickles.
An undercover VIPD vehicle followed the bus from the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center into Cruz Bay, where it stopped at the VIPD Leander Jurgen Command before continuing its regular run to the ferry dock, the passenger explained. An undercover cop car followed the bus into town, the Coral Bay resident said. When we passed the water tower area, the bus pulled over and a female officer spoke to the bus driver.
Bus Diverted to VIPD The bus was diverted from its regular route, and instead of making its usual right turn at the Texaco station, continued straight to the VIPD St. John headquarterswhile the illegal immigrants started acting nervous, the passenger added.
When we stopped at the stop sign by Texaco, some of the people pressed the button for the bus to stop, said the resident passenger. You could tell that the illegals were getting nervous and looking scared. The bus driver didnt open the doors until we got to the police station.
Residents Allowed Off
St. John residents and school children who were riding the bus with the illegal immigrants were let off at VIPD before the illegals were allowed to disembark.
The illegals were led off two by two and taken into Jurgen Command where they were held and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said Hannah.
A Cruz Bay restaurant supplied the immigrants with food and beverages while they were at the VIPD station.
They had a long journey, and through the generosity of a local restaurant, they were given something to eat, said Sgt. Hannah.
Person of Interest
One individual in the group, a Haitian male with a legal U.S. work permit, was detained, Hannah added.
A person of interest was in the group, he said. He is suspected of having some complicity in bringing these persons in.
The unnamed individual, who may have been the man who paid the VITRAN fares for the group, was turned over to ICE.
VIPD officials acted with professionalism throughout the incident, according to the Coral Bay bus passenger.
I was so impressed with the VIPD, the resident said. They were extremely efficient. I thought that the situation was handled very well.
The 27 illegal immigrants consisted of 17 men, eight women and two young female children. One woman was from the Dominican Republic and the rest were Haitians, according to ICE spoksperson Ivan Ortiz.
Most Likely Deported
The group was transported to ICEs Nisky processing center in St. Thomas before being transferred to a detention center in Puerto Rico on March 21, where they will most likely be deported, Ortiz added.
We expect that they will be deported, he said. Officials have begun the removal proceedings.
Residents of Haiti and the Dominican Republic can apply for refugee status, but they must apply outside of the U.S. If undocumented persons from the two nations on the island of Hispanola apply for refugee status once they are in the U.S., they are usually sent back to their country of origin.
Investigating Where Landed
ICE officials are still investigating where the group landed on St. John. Although discarded clothing can be found on numerous trails throughout the V.I. National Park, Ortiz would not comment on any popular routes that illegal immigrants use in the park.
This is the second time this month that illegal immigrants have boarded VITRAN buses for transportation. On March 6, 18 undocumented persons were arrested in Cruz Bay after arriving on an early morning VITRAN bus from Coral Bay.
Smuggling Operations Organizing
That group of 14 males and four females was detained after trying to board a passenger ferry to St. Thomas with questionable ferry tickets.
The recent trend of illegals using local public transportation indicates that human smuggling operations are more sophisticated, according to Hannah.
Whoever is assisting them in coming in, is giving them U.S. dollars and ferry tickets apparently, he said. These individuals have increasingly better thought-out plans.
Also on Monday, March 20, nine Cubans, eight males and one female all adults walked into ICEs Nisky processesing center. The Cubans, who are ususally granted political asylum once they reach U.S. soil under the wet-foot-dry-foot law, were processed and released on Tuesday, March 21, according to Ortiz.
More than 100 undocumented persons have been arrested in the U.S. Virgin Islands during fiscal year 2006, including a pregnant Haitian woman who was found hiding out at the V.I. National Parks Estate Catherineberg ruins.
An international flow of illegal immigrants from neighboring Caribbean islands predominately from Haiti and the Dominican Republic and increasingly from Cuba pay thousands of dollars and weather a dangerous journey to be brought to the territory.