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EFE News Service

Growing Number Of Cubans Arriving In Puerto Rico

By Claudio Matos

24 February 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE News Service. All rights reserved.

San Juan, Feb 24 (EFE).- The number of Cuban immigrants who sail to the Dominican Republic and try to make it to Puerto Rico from there has increased substantially in recent months, U.S. authorities in San Juan told EFE.

There has also been an increase the number of Dominicans who try to reach Puerto Rico on flimsy vessels, some of which founder off the coast.

Xavier Morales, a supervisor of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency's Border Patrol, told EFE that 23 Cubans arrived last week.

Six arrived at Mona Island, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) off Puerto Rico's western coast, on the Mona Channel, which separates Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic, Morales said.

The Border Patrol interviewed those immigrants, who were later released and allowed to stay in U.S. territory legally, he said.

Under the wet-foot, dry-foot policy, Cubans who touch U.S. land may stay under the provisions of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which then-President Lyndon Johnson signed in 1966, and apply for resident status a year later, but those who are caught offshore are repatriated.

Six others, including a 76-year-old woman, also gained admission under the terms of the act.

On Feb. 14, a Cuban who reached Mona Island along with nine others drowned trying to save a countryman who had fallen overboard. A baby was among that group of arrivals, Morales said.

In addition, five Dominicans, two Haitians and a Brazilian are being held at the service's detention center in Aguadilla, in northwest Puerto Rico, after entering the country illegally.

Would-be immigrants to the United States without visas try to reach Puerto Rico because its status as a U.S. commonwealth means that airline passengers flying from San Juan to U.S. points of entry do not go through customs and immigration.

ICE press spokesman Ivan Ortiz told EFE authorities intercepted 127 Cuban immigrants at sea between October and December 2004.

Cuban immigrants told EFE some immigrant-smugglers are increasingly using Puerto Rico's Mona and Desecho islands.

Relatives of Cubans often pay as much as $2,000 to get them to one of those islands, from where they are rescued and legally admitted to Puerto Rico, some observers said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard in Puerto Rico told EFE that 1,043 immigrants, most from the Dominican Republic, had been intercepted on 27 vessels since Oct. 1.

Scores of Dominicans are believed to drown in the Mona Passage each year in failed efforts to reach Puerto Rico.

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