Coast Guard repatriates 52 Dominican migrants to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant repatriated 52 of 71 Dominican migrants to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Wednesday, following an at-sea interdiction Monday by Caribbean Border Interagency Group law enforcement authorities off the coast of Isabela, Puerto Rico.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico agreed to prosecute 19 of the Dominicans, who were traveling aboard the migrant vessel, 14 of them on charges of illegal entry and five on charges of illegal reentry into a United States Territory.

“This case could have resulted in a real tragedy,” said Capt. Drew Pearson, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander.  “Migrant smugglers put the lives of hundreds of Dominicans in danger by making them travel aboard grossly overloaded and unseaworthy yolas, and now 19 more will be facing prosecution for violating U.S. immigration laws.”

Coast Guard Sector San Juan Watchstanders were contacted by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Caribbean Air and Marine Branch (CAMB) agents early Monday morning, who reported that CBP agents aboard a CBP DCH-8 marine surveillance aircraft had located a grossly overloaded migrant vessel, approximately three nautical miles off the coast of Isabela, Puerto Rico.

Coast Guard Watchstanders diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Matinicus and a 45-foot Response Boat Medium to interdict the migrant vessel and alerted Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action (FURA) of the ongoing situation.  Responding Puerto Rico Police FURA and Customs and Border Protection marine units interdicted the migrant vessel that was taking on water with 50 men and 21 women onboard.

The Coast Guard Cutter Matinicus arrived on scene shortly thereafter, provided lifejackets and embarked all the migrants from the make shift boat, while a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter flew rescue support overhead.

The Matinicus proceeded to rendezvous with the Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant, who embarked the migrants for biometrics processing to determine if they had any previous criminal or illegal immigration history in the United States or a U.S. Territory.

The Vigilant came into Mayaguez Bay, Puerto Rico Tuesday afternoon, where Border Patrol agents took 16 men and three women into custody for criminal prosecution.

The Vigilant proceeded to transit to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where they transferred custody of the 52 remaining migrants to awaiting Dominican Republic Navy authorities Wednesday morning.

Coast Guard Cutter Matinicus is a 110-foot patrol boat home ported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant is a 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter homeported in Port Canaveral, Fla.

In July 2006, CBIG was formally created to unify efforts of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Office of Border Patrol – Ramey Sector, the United States Attorney‘s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid action (FURA) in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands against illegal migrant smuggling.

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