SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Coast Guard repatriated 17 Dominicans and returned three Indians to the Dominican Republic Wednesday night, from a group of 27 migrants who were interdicted in the Mona Passage by Caribbean Border Interagency Group law enforcement authorities Tuesday morning.
Seven of the migrants are facing criminal prosecution for attempted entry and re-entry into the United States by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico.
The migrants were traveling to Puerto Rico aboard a grossly overloaded 25-foot makeshift boat that was detected late Monday night by the crew of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine maritime patrol aircraft, approximately 25 nautical miles northeast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector San Juan diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Richard Etheridge to interdict the migrant vessel and launched a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen to provide any required rescue assistance. As the Richard Etheridge closed in on the migrant vessel, the crew deployed the cutter’s Over the Horizon IV boat to carry out the interdiction.
Once alongside the migrant vessel, the crew of the Richard Etheridge provided the migrants with lifejackets as the makeshift vessel was taking on water. The cutter crew proceeded to embark the three Indian men and 24 Dominicans, 20 men and four women, including a 14-year old female minor, aboard the Richard Etheridge, where they were provided with food, water and shelter. The migrants biometric data, consisting of their digital finger prints and facial photograph, was also processed to determine if any had a previous criminal or illegal immigration history in the United States.
The Richard Etheridge transferred custody of the seven migrants facing potential prosecution to Ramey Sector Border Patrol Agents in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico Wednesday. Meanwhile, the remaining migrants were transported by the Coast Guard Cutter Richard Dixon to Dominican Republic waters, where they were transferred to a Dominican Republic Navy patrol boat for their return to La Romana, Dominican Republic.
“The swift response and close coordination between the CBP aircrew and our Coast Guard crews helped save 27 lives, while our close collaboration with the Dominican Republic Navy allowed for the migrants prompt return to the Dominican Republic,” said Cmdr. Heather Kelly, Sector San Juan chief of response. “They are very fortunate to have survived a very dangerous and frightful voyage aboard a makeshift boat that came very close to sinking in the middle of the night.”
The Caribbean Border Interagency Group was formally created to unify efforts of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney‘s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action (FURA, for its Spanish acronym), in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.