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A raging wave at sea: Migrants seek entrance to US in flimsy boats

[The Coast Guard suspended its search for victims after recovering the bodies of five migrants.]

KEY WEST, Fla. – Maritime disaster leaves rescuers still searching on Wednesday 38 migrants missing at sea Florida Strait comes amid a surge in seaborne migration on both coasts as thousands board flimsy boats in a desperate attempt to reach the United States.

The makeshift boats, carrying migrants from countries around the world, pose an unexpected and new challenge to the Biden administration, which has already faced a dramatic increase in illegal border crossings. allowed on the southern land border with Mexico.

The Coast Guard has at times intercepted more than 100 Cubans, Dominicans and Haitians crammed into a single boat in Florida’s windy waters. On the other side of the country, smuggling networks have carried countless undocumented immigrants from Yemen, Mexico and Central America, traveling from Mexico to Southern California.

Experts attribute the rise in seaborne smuggling to increased land border enforcement combined with shrinking opportunities in developing countries stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

With a president in the White House who has promised a softer border approach than his predecessor, smugglers and migrants have felt emboldened, especially as thousands Migrant families were brought into the United States despite a public health order allowing border agents to immediately deport them back to Mexico.

Seth Stodder, who served as a senior Homeland Security official under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said: “The perception among migrants and smugglers is that Biden has loosened regulations on the facility copy. “There is a desire to test this manager.”

In addition, worsening conditions in their home countries, including economic insecurity, political instability, violence and natural disasters, are acting as “driving factors”, he said.

The search for migrants lost at sea began around 8 a.m. Tuesday when a merchant sailor reported seeing a 25-foot boat capsized about 40 miles from Fort Pierce, Fla. East. A tugboat and barge pulled a survivor out of the hull. was taken to the hospital for treatment for dehydration and sun exposure.

The man, whose nationality has not been released, told authorities he had left Bimini, in the Bahamas, on Saturday night with 39 others. One of them was found dead. The ship capsized shortly after leaving in conditions that included a harsh cold front, waters up to 9 feet deep and winds of 23 mph. Captain Jo-Ann Burdian, commander of the Coast Guard’s Miami Coast Guard station, said:

“It is catastrophic,” Captain Burdian said at a news conference on Wednesday.

In fiscal year 2021, more than 3,200 migrants were arrested trying to reach the United States by sea. Southern California is reported to have experienced the busiest year of maritime smuggling in history, with 1,968 arrests. Florida authorities arrested 1,316 Cubans, Haitians and Dominicans – representing the majority of migrants – in fiscal year 2021, compared with 588 in 2020 and 748 in 2019.

While those numbers are lower by 1.7 million land-based encounters with migrants in fiscal year 2021, the full extent of sea traffic is still unknown as the data only represent a large proportion of the population. represent events in which people are detained or ships are recovered.

“It was the worst thing that ever happened,” said Mark Levan, an officer overseeing sea operations with the Office of Air and Maritime Operations in San Diego, who has been in the job for 20 years. “There was once a weeklong event involving a migrant ship. Now, most weeks are three or four, sometimes five”.

Many manage to enter the United States undetected. “They wouldn’t have done it if they hadn’t left,” Mr. Levan said.

Customs and Border Protection aircraft fly overhead and interceptors patrol underwater, but as along land borders, smugglers use detectors to relay airborne movements and at sea by law enforcement.

Ruber Sosa Lechuga, 56, an air conditioning technician in Fort Myers, Fla., paid $2,500 to make the trip through Mona Passage near Puerto Rico in 2006. He has simple advice for those who is considering migrating by sea.

“I would tell anyone, my worst enemy, don’t do it,” Mr. Sosa said. “It’s too dangerous.” Mr. Sosa, a Cuban, first went to the Dominican Republic, then sailed with his wife and son, 12 years old at the time, to Puerto Rico. Spooky 11 hours. He still remembered the size of the waves.

“How many Cubans haven’t died in the Florida Straits?” he say. “They prefer to die then live under this tyranny.”

He added: “I tell people, try to do things legally. Try to get on the plane. ”

The cost of making sea passage today exceeds what smugglers charge to transport people over land.

In California, criminal organizations are charging between $15,000 and $20,000 per Mexican citizen, and up to $70,000 for those from other countries, to transport people by sea, said Joseph Di Meglio, special assistant Department of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego.

“The reality is it’s a low-risk, high-return operation,” he said.

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, said last July at a press conference that people trying to migrate by sea would not be allowed into the United States.

“For those who risk their lives to do so, the risk is not worth taking,” he said.

Without the shelter of the elements and the mercy of those who handled them, many migrants died en route.

Authorities said the boat that capsized over the weekend appeared to be part of a people-smuggling operation that had gone awry.

Captain Burdian said: “The waters in the North Strait can be quite dangerous.

The Coast Guard searched about 7,500 nautical miles, an area the size of New Jersey, she said. The search continues on Wednesday, but at some point, she said, officials will have to shut down as the chances of survival grow slimmer.

Authorities in the Bahamas said information about the boat and its occupants was still being gathered.

Keith Bell, Immigration Minister in the Bahamas, said: “Things are sketchy right now. He said authorities were still trying to confirm “whether it really came from Bimini and who these people were.”

The number of Cubans making the perilous journey is smaller than it was before January 2017, when the Obama administration ended a policy that allowed Cubans to stay in the United States legally after they touched American soil. But the numbers are growing rapidly as economic hardship and government crackdowns intensify on the Caribbean island.

In July, nine Cubans went missing after capsizing 26 kilometers from Cuba, while 13 others survived. In May, 10 Cubans died and 8 others survived a shipwreck south of Key West, Fla.

Haitian migrants have left the country engulfed in gang violence, political upheaval and ensuing poverty Presidential assassination and a deadly earthquake.

Those who migrate to California often make their way to the Mexican border from Central America or even beyond.

West Coast smugglers often use rudimentary flat-bottomed fishing boats, called pangas, to pick up migrants on the beaches of Baja California, Mexico, just south of California. However, they also tried to blend in with recreational traffic using recreational boats, such as sailboats and cruisers, said Di Meglio, a Department of Homeland Security investigator. know.

Over a two-week period in August, authorities on the West Coast thwarted six attempts at maritime smuggling. Pangas attempted to land undetected late into the night along the coast from San Diego all the way to Newport Beach in Orange County, Long Beach and Malibu near Los Angeles.

Much of the East Coast smuggling has departed from Bimini, a chain of small islands in the Bahamas with a population of less than 2,000. They are the closest inhabited islands to the United States.

Just a day before the boat carrying 40 migrants capsized leaving Bimini, another boat with 31 migrants capsized, the Royal Bahamas Defense Force said. All the migrants, including a woman trapped under the boat, were rescued.

On January 16, a migrant ship with two Bahamians, two Ecuadorians and two Colombians entered the water in North Bimini and had to be rescued.

And on New Year’s Day, 20 people were arrested near Nassau, including citizens of Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras and Africa, according to local news reports.

Migration operations, residents of Bimini said, were carried out in a rough manner. “You don’t see it in the community, you just hear things,” said Robbie Smith, former chief councilor of Bimini. “If they’re doing it, they’re doing it when people are sleeping at night.”

Anthony Salisbury, special agent in charge in Miami, said the Department of Homeland Security has opened a criminal investigation into the trip that was the subject of the latest search.

In addition to overloading migrants on small boats without life jackets, smugglers sometimes kidnap, blackmail or force migrants into prostitution, he said.

“There has been a marked increase in maritime smuggling cases in South Florida,” he said. “These criminal organizations don’t care about human life. They see migrants as packages and payday. “

Rachel Knowles-Scott Reporting contributors from Nassau, Bahamas. Susan Campbell Beachy research contributions.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/26/us/capsized-boat-florida.html A raging wave at sea: Migrants seek entrance to US in flimsy boats

Fry Electronics Team

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