Immigrants Come to U.S.V.I. for Easy Entry, Better Life

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Clothes from immigrants litter Brown Bay, above, a beach only accessible by boat or walking a mile-long trail, on the North side of St. John.

The arrest of a pregnant Haitian woman at the Catherineberg ruins on Jan. 31 and eight Cuban nationals on North Shore Road on Feb. 2 is evidence of a growing problem St. John has been in the middle of for years.

Because of its geographical location, the U.S. Virgin Islands are a popular destination among illegal immigrants attempting to enter the U.S., said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson Ivan Ortiz.

“The U.S. Virgin Islands are close to other islands, and are close to the U.S.,” he said. “The geographic location is why many illegal immigrants choose to attempt to enter the U.S. through the Virgin Islands.”

A large percentage come from Haiti, according to statistics provided by ICE, who keep track of how many immigrants were arrested in the U.S.V.I. from a particular country during the fiscal year (October—September).

More than 62 Haitian immigrants have already been arrested during fiscal year 2006.

Better Way of Life
Haiti is closer to the U.S.V.I. than to the mainland, and it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, according to the CIA World Factbook.

“They may come to the U.S., thinking it will offer them what they need to accomplish their dreams,” said Ortiz. “Many are looking for a better way of life.”

Natural disasters frequently affect Haiti, and 80 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to Factbook. “Despite efforts to control illegal migration, Haitians fleeing economic privation and civil unrest continue to cross into the Dominican Republic and to sail to neighboring countries,” the Factbook’s web site reported.

Easier To Enter
In addition to the appealing geographic location of the V.I., immigrants may choose to enter the U.S. through St. John, in particular, because it is a smaller island and less heavily patrolled.

“Although the police and park rangers do an excellent job, they can’t catch everyone,” said Ortiz.

This may be the reason Cubans routinely represent the second largest group of immigrants arrested in the V.I., despite the fact that Cuba is geographically closer to the mainland U.S.

Thirty-eight Cubans have been arrested during fiscal year 2006, and Cubans are almost consistently one of the top three groups of immigrants that are arrested in the V.I.

Dominican Republicans have been one of the three largest groups of immigrants arrested in the V.I. for the past three years—there were 63 arrested in 2004; 62 arrested in 2005 and 10 have been arrested in 2006.

Decline in Chinese
Chinese immigrants used to flock to the V.I. by the hundreds—136 were arrested in 2001; 375 were arrested in 2002 and 228 were arrested in 2003.

However, in 2004, only 26 Chinese immigrants were arrested in the V.I., and that number has continued to drop.

This sharp decline is due to the implementation of the Depart-ment of Homeland Security, which began intercepting and arresting immigrants on the China-V.I. route, said Ortiz.

Sharing Information
Before the Department of Homeland Security was formed, several agencies, including ICE, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard, worked independently and did not share intelligence. These agencies now work together.

“We can see the results in the decrease of immigration to the territory,” said Ortiz. “But, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stop.”

Other countries that routinely show up high on ICE’s statistics are Jamaica—11 Jamaicans were arrested in 2004 and seven in 2005—and Dominica—eight Dominicans were arrested in 2004, six in 2005 and one in 2006.

Comparison to U.S. Statistics
While Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic represent large numbers of immigrants to the U.S. as a whole, the largest group of immigrants from a single country in 2004 came from Mexico—173,664, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Web site.

Next on the 2004 list, but trailing far behind, were South America, with 69,177 immigrants; India, with 65,472 immigrants; and Africa, with 62,510 immigrants.

By comparison, 30,049 Dominican Republicans, 15,385 Cubans, 13,565 Jamaicans and 13,502 Haitians immigrated to the U.S. in 2004.