Feb. 26, 2004 – Police and federal immigration and customs officials say most of the 21 illegal aliens apprehended by police Wednesday on St. John are Haitian nationals.
Ivan Ortiz, spokesman for the enforcement wing of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Puerto Rico, said authorities picked up the immigrants in two groups on Wednesday morning and transported them to the Cruz Bay police headquarters, where they were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Police on St. John "called Immigration and Customs Enforcement to alert them they had picked up 13 illegal aliens making entry to the U.S. through St. John," Ortiz said. "Shortly after that, they arrested eight more."
Ortiz added: "As of this time, we do not know if all of the arrested aliens are from Haiti, or if some were from the Dominican Republic."
The two nations share the island of Hispaniola, to the west of Puerto Rico. However, they have different primary languages — Haitian Creole and Spanish, respectively.
Ortiz declined to comment on police reports that a truck driver and a taxi driver also were arrested on St. John, and charged with knowingly transporting illegal aliens.
According to affidavits filed in District Court on St. Thomas, Davidson Alfred, 40, and Geordany Michel, age unknown, were taken into custody by federal authorities.
Sgt. Thomas Hannah, Police Department spokesman, said on Thursday that the illegal aliens picked up Wednesday on St. John comprised 12 men and nine women, most of them from Haiti.
It was the second time within a week that a number of undocumented Haitian nationals were picked up on St. John. Nine Haitians were among a group of 14 persons detained over the weekend.
Ortiz said the number of illegal immigrants making their way to the United States through the Virgin Islands has dropped dramatically. Still, he said, 58 people were arrested on St. John between October 2003 and this January, and of those, 14 were Haitian.
With the escalation of political violence in Haiti over the last several weeks, there has been speculation in the national news media that Haitian refugees in large numbers would flee the country in the hope of reaching the United States.
Bush administration officials have been quoted as saying that those who try to enter the country will be turned away. However, Ortiz said on Wednesday that the government does allow refugees making their way to U.S. soil to stay under certain circumstances.
"We're not treating Haitians or any immigrant differently than we would treat them under normal circumstances," he said. "What I'm trying to say is, if the Haitian arrives in the United States, that Haitian will be processed according to the Immigration and Nationality Act."
And, he continued, "if that person believes they qualify for political asylum, then that person will apply for political asylum, and an officer will be assigned and review that case. If that officer finds credible fear, then that petition will be accepted and it will be processed."
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