The number of illegal aliens arrested in the U.S. Virgin Islands has continually increased since 2003, and although this may seem to point to an increase in the number of illegal immigrants landing in the islands, it’s actually a testament to improved apprehension rates, thanks to the 2003 establishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to federal officials.
Apprehensions of illegal aliens increased by nearly 60 percent from fiscal year 2005 (October 2004-September 2005) to fiscal year 2006 (October 2005-September 2006).
“We have seen an increase in detentions because of the resources available to ICE,” said ICE spokesperson Ivan Ortiz. “ICE now has more authority than U.S. Customs agents had. That is relevant in our success for that increase in detention.”
“ICE was established in 2003, and if you look at the statistics, there has been a steady increase in apprehensions,” Ortiz added.
Haitians, Cubans Largest Group
Three hundred and four illegal immigrants were arrested in FY 2005, while 523 illegals were arrested in FY 2006.
Haitians and Cubans have represented the largest group of apprehended illegal immigrants in the USVI in the past two years, according to ICE statistics.
In FY 2005, 132 Haitians and 72 Cubans were detained, and in FY 2006, 227 Cubans and 160 Haitians were detained.
The Dominican Republic is never far behind, with 62 Dominicans apprehended in FY 2005 and 58 Dominicans apprehended in FY 2006.
Haiti is closer to the USVI than to the mainland, and it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, according to the CIA World Factbook.
“Despite efforts to control illegal migration, Haitians fleeing economic privation and civil unrest continue to cross into the Dominican Republic and to sail to neighboring countries,” according to the Factbook’s Web site.
The USVI are less heavily patrolled than the Florida coast, which could be why so many Cubans attempt to enter the US through the territory, despite the fact that Cuba is geographically closer to Florida.
“Although the police and park rangers do an excellent job, they can’t catch everyone,” said Ortiz.
Virgin Islands National Park rangers are often at the forefront of the fight against illegal immigrants on St. John.
“The park rangers are at the top, because usually, the Park is the landing point most widely used on St. John,” said Ortiz.
Immigrants have also been known to use ruins within the park for shelter, as evidenced by a pregnant Haitian woman who was discovered hiding out at the Catherineberg ruins earlier this year.
Working with Local Governments
ICE also relies on help from its own intelligence, the Virgin Islands Police Department, and the public, in apprehending illegal aliens, according to Ortiz.
“We work together, not only with state and local agencies, but with the governments of other islands in our jurisdiction,” he said. “That has helped a lot, not only with immigration, but with drug trafficking.”
St. John is a popular landing spot because of its geographic location, according to Ortiz.
Swim to Tortola
“Even though we have immigrants landing on St. Thomas and St. Croix, the numbers cannot compare to those of St. John,” he said. “St. John’s numbers are high because of the island’s proximity to the British Virgin Islands, and other islands in the area. You can basically swim from Tortola to St. John.”
The immigrants who land on St. John are not just from neighboring islands — they come from as far away as China, Morocco and Syria.
Fiscal Year 2006 Stats
In FY 2006, ICE apprehended 28 immigrants from China; 13 from Dominica; nine from St. Lucia; six from St. Kitts-Nevis; four from Jamaica; four from Antigua-Barbuda; three from Jordan; three from Peru; one from Canada; one from Syria; one from the British Virgin Islands; one from Morocco; one from the Netherlands Antilles; one from Trinidad and Tobago; one from the United Kingdom; and one from Venezuela.