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HomeNewsArchivesILLEGAL ALIENS A PRIME ST. JOHN SECURITY CONCERN

ILLEGAL ALIENS A PRIME ST. JOHN SECURITY CONCERN

Sept. 12, 2003 – "We need you to be our eyes and ears," federal and local law enforcement, judicial and health officials said in essence at a St. John town meeting Friday on homeland security.
"The way to defeat terrorism is through an informed citizenry," U.S. Attorney David Nissman said.
The meeting, called by Delegate Donna M. Christensen and held at the Legislature Building, drew about a dozen residents.
While several topics were addressed, the issue of illegal aliens dominated the discussion. St. John's remote unpopulated bays make it the most popular location in the territory for dropping off undocumented would-be immigrants. Most are Chinese, but some come from other places that include Haiti and the Middle East.
"St. John is an open border through which people can pass and affect the whole nation," Christensen said. "We don't want to be responsible for the next terrorist act."
St. John Administrator Julien Harley wanted to know how long it will take to reduce the steady stream of illegal aliens entering St. John.
Hillary Hodge Jr., V.I. acting agent in charge of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that despite efforts that include air and marine patrols, they problem just isn't going to go away. "That's why we need you, the public," he said, urging residents to call authorities when they see suspected illegal aliens on St. John — and to report any other concerns.
How to transport illegal aliens apprehended on St. John to St. Thomas for processing has been an issue for local law-enforcement agencies. As the procedure now stands, Police Department officers or V.I. National Park Service rangers take the individuals into custody then wait for Immigration and Customs agents to pick them up from the area where they were caught. The illegal aliens are then transported to St. Thomas by ferry.
"It's a logistical nightmare, but the process is getting better," Steve Clark, chief of enforcement for the park, said.
Hodge said having an agent and a van stationed on St. John would be ideal, but his agency doesn't have the funding or the staffing to do it.
Some of the problems could be alleviated if the territory had federal Border Patrol agents, Nissman said. He urged people who want better apprehension of illegal aliens to write to him or to Christensen so they can make the case for the establishment of a Border Patrol unit in the Virgin Islands.
Nissman said there may be people bent on hurting the United States among the illegal aliens coming ashore in the territory. "We know there are people coming from countries where there is an Al Qaeda presence," he said.
Citing the case of an arms-for-drugs deal in which St. Croix played a role, Nissman said people engaging in illegal activities operate in the Virgin Islands because they feel the scrutiny is less than on the mainland. He also said money illegally leaves the territory in a way that appears questionable. "And we have targets here," he said, listing the Hovensa refinery and cruise ships as possible targets for terrorists.
Lt. John Reinert, who is in charge of U.S. Coast Guard operations on St. Thomas, said his agency is in the midst of putting together a seaport security plan.
Hodge urged people to call toll-free (800) 981-3300 or (800) BE-ALERT if they see suspected illegal activities. He said all calls are investigated.
Reinert said people who want to report suspected terrorism activities to the Coast Guard should call toll-free (877) 24-WATCH.

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