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17479: radtimes: More migrants being halted off U.S. coast (fwd)

From: radtimes <resist@best.com>

More migrants being halted off U.S. coast

Improved coordination by federal agencies leads to an increased number
of undocumented migrants being stopped at sea.

Dec. 01, 2003

The rickety 60-foot sailing boat, overloaded with dozens of undocumented
migrants, was spotted in mid-November near one of the southernmost
islands in the Bahamas.

Gallatin, a Coast Guard cutter based in Charleston, S.C., was dispatched
to intercept the vessel. It succeeded 40 miles northwest of Great
Inagua, just north of Cuba, and the 204 people aboard -- 203 Haitians
and one Cuban -- were repatriated.

The interdiction of the vessel, likely bound for South Florida,
illustrates a growing trend: Interceptions are becoming more frequent,
and arrivals of large migrant-laden boats more infrequent on local
shores -- which federal officials link to more efficient detection
techniques under the new Department of Homeland Security.

Figures recently released by the U.S. Coast Guard show a sharp jump in
the number of migrant interdictions along U.S. shores and in waters
traditionally used by migrant boats, including the Florida Straits and
the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti.

Officials say their agencies are coordinating efforts better now that
they're all under Homeland Security. Interception figures also show that
more people are leaving their homelands -- despite the U.S. policy of
detaining most migrants who arrive by sea to deter voyages by others.

In fiscal year 2003, which ended Sept. 30, 6,068 migrants were prevented
from reaching shore -- the largest number of interdictions in seven
years. Calendar year figures also show an increase: 5,142 interdictions
in 2002 compared to 4,136 in 2001. So far this year, 4,720 migrants have
been stopped.


In the fiscal year figures, the largest number of migrants stopped was
Haitians -- 2,013 in 2003 compared to 1,486 in 2002 -- followed by
Dominicans with 1,748 stopped in 2003 versus 177 in 2002, and Cubans --
1,555 in 2003 and 666 in 2002.

''You have an increase in successful interdictions because of the
increased interagency cooperation and the ability to share resources and
capabilities,'' said Lt. Tony Russell, public affairs officer for the
Seventh Coast Guard District in Miami.

Russell and other U.S. officials said improved coordination stems from
the merger of several agencies into the new Department of Homeland
Security. On March 1, Customs, the Coast Guard and immigration, among
other agencies, folded into Homeland Security.

Before the takeover, those agencies reported to different departments:
Coast Guard to Transportation, Customs to Treasury and immigration to

The merger came in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
after federal officials concluded that hijackers went undetected largely
because of lack of coordination and sharing of information among
government agencies.


Coordination and information sharing among border and coastal security
agencies did exist before Homeland Security, but it was limited and

Said Russell: ``A year ago, in a migrant interdiction, for example, you
might have a boat spotted by a Customs aircraft, which would have been
Department of the Treasury, and then that information was relayed to the
Coast Guard, which was Department of Transportation.

``They would share the information with the Border Patrol, which was
Department of Justice, and you'd end up with three separate departments
to try to stop one boat. Now you have an Immigration and Customs
Enforcement aircraft spotting the vessel and passing the information to
the Coast Guard, and both are Department of Homeland Security.''

Border Patrol officials in Miami confirm that more interdictions have
meant fewer arrivals of undocumented migrants. In fiscal year 2003,
1,267 undocumented migrants reached South Florida -- 242 less than in
fiscal year 2002, according to the Border Patrol.

''We have, in fact, noticed fewer arrivals over the last year and we're
certain that the largest reason for that is because of shared
intelligence and improved communication between all of the Homeland
Security agency components,'' said Keith Roberts, assistant chief
Customs and Border Protection-U.S. Border Patrol for Miami. ``We've
gotten to the point where we're sharing real-time communications --
telephonic and electronic and cooperative or joint field tactics.''

Despite the improved coordination, officials say small numbers of
migrants still manage to avoid detection, especially those who are
smuggled in.

A year ago, Roberts said, smugglers brought larger numbers of illegal
migrants aboard unsafe boats. Now they are using faster vessels and
bringing smaller groups.

The evidence is in the statistics: Ten more vessels carrying illegal
migrants reached South Florida in fiscal year 2003 -- 110 compared to
the 100 in 2002. But they brought fewer migrants: 1,267 versus 1,509,
Roberts said.


Some immigration advocates linked improved effectiveness to the breakup
of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service into service and
enforcement components as a result of the Homeland Security takeover.

''Splitting INS is allowing the enforcement side to act on its own
intelligence,'' said Michael Bander, a veteran Miami immigration
attorney. ``They are more effective because of the division of

However, Cheryl Little, executive director of Miami-based Florida
Immigrant Advocacy Center, said it also shows the failure of a
controversial federal policy of trying to discourage illegal migration
by indefinitely detaining migrants who arrive by sea -- except Cubans,
who are permitted by law to stay if they reach land.

''The figures show that detention as a deterrent doesn't work,'' she