CBP arrests 2 Dominican Republic citizens after attempted re-entry
Intercepted at sea by Coast Guard inside wooden vessel with 16 Cubans
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico –U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol Agents arrested Thursday two citizens of the Dominican Republic for attempting to re-enter the United States after prior removal.
Antonio Santana-Areche, 41 and Felix Manuel Mejias-Rijo, 39, appeared today before US District Court Judge Silvia Carreño-Coll for an initial hearing charging them with attempting to re-enter after being previously removed and attempted improper entry, respectively.
A US Coast Guard (USCG) helicopter spotted a makeshift wooden vessel 18 nautical miles northwest of Mona Island on the evening of January 21. The USCG cutter REEF SHARK intercepted the vessel, finding the two defendants along with 16 Cubans (13 Males and 3 Females). Determining the vessel was severely overloaded, the USCG removed all persons for safety concerns.
Biometric record checks of the group revealed that three individuals had prior immigration records. Mr. Mejias-Rijo and Mr. Santana-Areache had been previously removed and one Cuban had been denied a visa application.
The two men were brought to the Mayaguez port where Border Patrol Agents assumed custody for immigration processing. USCG repatriated the 16 Cubans on January 23, 2015.
Special Assistant US Attorney Glenn H. Goetchius will lead/led the prosecution of the case.
If convicted, Mr. Mejias could be fined, imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and Mr. Santana up to 10 years of imprisonment.
All defendants are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
The illegal maritime smuggling ventures arriving to Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic are ordinarily transported in rustic, homemade wooden vessels commonly referred to as "yolas." A typical “yola” is an unsafe vessel, generally underpowered with a single outboard motor, and overloaded with a large number of passengers and without life vests. Every year CBP receives both confirmed and unconfirmed reports of aliens drowning while in transit to United States territory.
Eighty nautical miles separate the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico. At the approximate mid-point lies the island of Mona, an uninhabited island that is a United States territory.
Migrant smugglers in the Dominican Republic strategically navigate to and use Mona Island as a drop off point for migrants who must then be recovered from Mona and transported to Puerto Rico by CBP or USCG air or marine assets.
The Administration’s recent announcement regarding Cuba does not signify a change in the current immigration policy toward Cuba, under the 1995 amendment of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. CBP maintains a robust posture regarding the enforcement of our immigration laws along the nation’s borders and coastal areas, and Coast Guard cutters aggressively patrol the Caribbean and Florida Straits to interdict migrants traveling from Cuba to the United States by water.
The Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG) was formally created to unify efforts of the Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico Police Joint Rapid Action Forces (FURA, for its Spanish acronym), in their common goal of securing the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands borders against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.