With a total of 367 immigration violation arrests in the U.S. Virgin Islands during Fiscal Year 2007, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has wrapped up another year of successful operations.
This year, ICE arrested 20 more people than FY 2006, and 63 people more than FY 2005, explained ICE spokesperson Ivan Ortiz.
“As far as the numbers go, this year was average,” said Ortiz. “We measure our level of success by the quality of the investigations, and in this regard it was a very successful year for ICE in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
The majority of those arrested during FY 2007 were Cubans, with Haitians coming in a close second, Ortiz added. Cubans who reach land in the U.S. are physically detained, processed and released on parole under the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” law. After one year on parole, Cuban nationals can apply for legal permanent resident status, explained Ortiz. Cuban immigrants stopped at sea are sent home.
The sheer number of Cubans coming into the U.S. via St. John could not be ignored at Brown Bay in September, when a fourth grade Guy Benjamin School class on a field trip with V.I. National Park Education Specialist Laurel Brannick came face to face with Ryan Lopez, a Cuban immigrant who had just swam ashore from Tortola after a long trip from Cuba via St. Maarten. Lopez turned himself in to ICE on St. Thomas and was released to Miami, where he reunited with his father who he hadn’t seen for 20 years.
ICE’s investigations continued as usual this year, with no major operational changes, Ortiz explained.
St. John Focus on Immigration
“We are conducting the same operations throughout the USVI involving our immigration and customs mission, which involves human smuggling, trafficking, child porn, narcotics and intellectual property rights,” said Ortiz. “Obviously I can’t comment on the specifics of any open investigation, but we cover the whole spectrum of our mission in the territory.”
On the Customs side of ICE’s operations, $123,414 was seized from people trying to enter or leave the territory with more than $10,000 in cash, which must be reported.
“Of that, $102,187 was from people coming in, and the rest was outbound,” said Ortiz.
The focus on St. John was on undocumented persons, the ICE spokesperson explained.
“The main problem there is illegal immigration throughout the island,” said Ortiz. “Of course, we have the assistance of the V.I. Police Department and the V.I. National Park. Without them, we couldn’t do all the things we’re doing apprehending these people.”
ICE last month partnered with the VIPD and several other government agencies for a raid on Cruz Bay businesses, which resulted in the arrest of 14 undocumented persons. No other major operations were conducted on St. John this year, according to Ortiz.