Coral Bay residents vented frustrations about illegal immigrants passing through Love City at a meeting with Hillary Hodge, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement resident agent in charge for the territory, at the John’s Folly Learning Institute on Monday evening, April 30.
The frequent landing of illegal immigrants in the area was a chief issue for many people at the February meeting of the Coral Bay Community Council monthly forum where residents shared a litany of concerns with guest speaker St. John Administrator Leona Smith.
“So I spoke afterwards with (V.I. Police Department) Commissioner (James) McCall who suggested that we should talk directly with Hillary Hodge,” said CBCC president Sharon Coldren. “Mr. Hodge is based out of St. Thomas and when I called him he offered to come and speak with members of the community.”
Smith, Hodge, Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen’s St. John coordinator Aldria Harley-Wade, a V.I. Police Department officer, CBCC board members and about 15 residents were present for the April 30 meeting.
No Border Patrol in V.I.
With no border patrol in the territory, curtailing the landing of illegal immigrants is often left to ICE, which is short-staffed.
“ICE is an investigative agency,” said Coldren. “They don’t have the personnel to patrol the border.”
Christensen has been lobbying for the establishment of a border patrol unit for the U.S. Virgin Islands, which would alleviate ICE’s burden.
In the meantime, however, passing local legislation to allow VIPD officers to get involved would help the problem, Coldren explained.
“Some states have done this same thing which we could do here too — pass territorial legislation which would make it easier for the police to become involved in making inspections and arrests,” Coldren said.
Investigations Often Not Public
Residents expressed frustration with perceived inaction by ICE officials after reports of illegal immigrants are made.
“The public needs to know that if you don’t hear from ICE, or it takes months, they often do investigations that aren’t in the public eye,” said Smith. “The audience was very adamant and upset that when they call officials they don’t see results. But the reason is because these are ongoing cases.”
Residents should encourage and join the campaign pushing for the establishment of a border patrol unit, according to Smith.
“We need to reach out to our lawmakers and our delegate to have a border protection here,” she said. “It won’t stop the flow, but it will help a great deal. They have border patrol in Puerto Rico and it helps a lot.”
“We need a border patrol like yesterday,” Smith added.
24-Hour Toll-Free Hotline
Anyone who witnesses suspicious activity which they think might be related to drug smuggling or the landing of illegal immigrants, should call ICE’s 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-800-981-3030. Callers should report what they see and ask for the St. Thomas duty agent, who is available 24-hours a day.
People who report incidents are not expected to share their names or contact numbers, but should be specific when describing the incident, explained Coldren.
“Tell the St. Thomas duty agent exactly where the suspicious behavior is happening, what is happening and give a description of people and vehicles,” she said. “The agent will determine how to follow-up — perhaps by involving local police or the V.I. National Park.”
Reports are important to illustrate why a border patrol unit is needed in the territory, according to Coldren.
“ICE may not be able to apprehend the people — because Congress has not provided a border patrol — or they may get them when they get to Cruz Bay,” she said. “But this will provide a record of the event to prove there is a problem and help us get a border patrol unit. It also provides the basis for an investigation.”
“Every bit of information helps,” Coldren added.