Sunday, April 14

24 Haitian migrants intercepted in Sebastian Inlet marking area’s third recent migrant event

Twenty-four Haitian migrants were intercepted off the Sebastian Inlet in at least the third migrant encounter federal agents said they’ve responded to recently in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers said Fish and Wildlife Commission officers responded to a 42-foot Pathfinder in the Sebastian Inlet Thursday night.

“On the boat were men, women and children,” Flowers said. “Two of the women claimed to be pregnant.”

Body camera footage from his deputies showed people of all ages packed on the boat. Flowers said they were evaluated by Brevard County Fire Rescue and were in good condition.

“You can see these folks are laying on the ground,” Flowers said. “The object of this is that the smugglers travel through the inlet [in an attempt to] … look like regular boaters.”

Flowers said the case is being investigated as human smuggling, marking at least the second recent human smuggling event of the three migrant encounters thus far.

“There are two captains on this boat believed to be involved in that, and they will face federal charges of human smuggling,” Flowers said.

WPTV saw U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents with an ATV at the Sebastian Inlet on Friday morning, along with FWC officers, speaking to people on shore.

“I was curious because I saw Homeland Security was here,” fisherman Gerard Jackson said. “Basically they just unloaded an ATV, got on top of it and went on down the beach.

“I was looking at this car and I was like, ‘That says border patrol!” added Evan Genoni, “so I was wondering what was going on.”

Just the day before, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations agent Alan Regalado confirmed that it was the second migrant encounter in the area in two days.

While neither agents nor the U.S. Coast Guard could share additional information about the ongoing investigation, they confirmed to WPTV that a boat was interdicted off the coast of Jupiter on Wednesday night.

Just four weeks earlier on Feb. 3, agents took 32 Haitian migrants into custody off the Fort Pierce Inlet.

It marked the start of a busy month after agents told WPTV they were seeing a 100% decrease in migrant encounters during the fall and winter.

“It’s just who gets caught and who doesn’t get caught,” retired special agent Neville Cramer said.

Cramer, who spent 26 years with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), said statistics only account for the migrants that agents are able to interdict, but even so, said the three this month may be an indication we’re in for another influx.

“I was speaking with local law enforcement yesterday and they were telling me they’re a little afraid of Venezuelan gangs coming up, criminal gangs coming up,” Cramer said.

So why the surge in migrants now?

Just a few weeks ago, local law enforcement told WPTV reporter Kate Hussey they believed smuggling routes had changed.

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder traveled to the southern border and told WPTV he believed more smugglers were now coming into the U.S. through there instead of by sea.

Since then, however, the U.S. Senate unveiled a $118 billion spending bill, allotting $20 billion of that to tighten the southern border.

State leaders, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also sent troops and resources to the border help.

“Is it possible smugglers are paying attention to that and thinking, maybe we should go another way?” Hussey asked.

“Absolutely. You’re absolutely correct,” Cramer said. “They listen to the news more than most people.”

Flowers said none of the migrants taken into custody during Thursday’s event actually stepped on shore and are now in the custody of federal agencies to be repatriated back to their country.

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