The Coast Guard Cutter Valiant (WMEC-616) repatriated 44 of 69 Dominican migrants to a Dominican Republic Navy vessel on February 3, following the interdiction of three separate illegal migrant voyages near Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Five of the interdicted migrants will remain in Puerto Rico to face possible federal prosecution on charges of violating 8 U.S.C. § 1326 for Attempting to Illegally Re-enter the United States after a Prior Removal, which may carry a potential maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
The interdictions were a result of ongoing efforts in support of Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG). CBIG 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.
“These makeshift vessels were extremely overloaded and had been at-sea for several days,” said Lt. Matthew Monahan, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Richard Dixon commanding officer (WPC-1113). “Those aboard had no food or water left and were likely abandoned by the individual promising them passage to Puerto Rico once the vessel ran out of fuel. These survivors were lucky to be located in time to receive aid from Coast Guard personnel, but this is frequently not the case. This is just another example of why this type of journey is exceptionally hazardous and should not be attempted under any circumstances.”
The first interdiction took place on January 28, 2020, after a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations marine patrol aircraft crew sighted a 22-foot migrant boat disabled and adrift, approximately 45 nautical miles northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The cutter Richard Dixon interdicted the illegal voyage and embarked all 13 migrants, 11 men and two women.
The second interdiction took place on January 29, after a CBP Air and Marine Operations DHC-8 marine patrol aircraft crew sighted a 30-foot migrant boat disabled and adrift, approximately 12 nautical miles southwest of Desecheo Island, Puerto Rico. Cutter Richard Dixon interdicted the illegal voyage and embarked all 37 migrants, 32 adult males and five females, including a 17-year-old minor.
The third interdiction took place on January 30, after the crew of a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry marine patrol aircraft sighted a 30-foot migrant boat disabled and adrift, approximately 37 nautical miles south of Isla Saona, Dominican Republic. The Coast Guard Cutter Valiant (WMEC-621) interdicted the illegal voyage as a Dominican Republic Navy vessel also responded to the scene. Once on scene, the crew of the Dominican Navy vessel embarked the migrants for their return to the Dominican Republic.
Once aboard a Coast Guard cutter, all migrants receive food, water, shelter and basic medical attention. The crew of the cutter Valiant transferred the five migrants awaiting federal prosecution to Ramey Sector Border Patrol agents in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.