CBP - U.S. Customs and Border Protection

10/20/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/20/2020 09:37

Despite COVID-19 Risks, a Dangerous Increase in the Number of Migrants Venturing in 'Yolas' to Puerto Rico

AGUADILLA, Puerto Rico- Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of several travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the disease, human smugglers continue to place migrants in harm's way. The makeshift wooden vessels known as 'yolas,' crowded with people and not suitable for navigation, continue to be used to traffic people into Puerto Rico.

On Sunday Oct.18, Border Patrol agents, the Puerto Rico Police and the Isabela Municipal Police detained four undocumented migrants (3 men and 1 woman) after disembarking on Middles Beach in Isabela.

This past week, 66 undocumented migrants were detained at sea by authorities under the Caribbean Border Initiative (CBIG) and were repatriated to the Dominican Republic.

This summer, press reports have documented the disappearance of boats that were suspected of capsizing.

'Human smugglers are unscrupulous criminals who enrich themselves regardless of the danger posed by the journey,' says Xavier A. Morales, Head of the Ramey Sector of the Border Patrol. 'They treat migrants as merchandise that can be lost along the way and are not responsible for the suffering of families who may lose a loved one.'

Traffickers demand from $ 1,000 to $ 10,000 per person for illegally crossing into Puerto Rico. Beyond the financial losses that migrants will not recoup, relying on smugglers could also cost them their lives. This has never been more real than during the global pandemic.

The dangers of the trip can be summarized in three possible outcomes: the victimization of undocumented immigrants by smuggling organizations, the inconvenience of a criminal prosecution and the loss of life at sea.

Taking advantage of the fact that undocumented immigrants feel defenseless in the face of their situation, individuals and criminal organizations subject them to sexual exploitation or forced labor, manifestations of human trafficking credited as a modern expression of slavery.

Human smugglers not only take advantage of the vulnerability of the people they transport, they also intimidate them to avoid criminal prosecution for more serious crimes.

By shrinking immigration channels, more people are seeking the help of human smugglers, who endanger the lives and integrity of migrants in their increasingly risky efforts to circumvent border controls.

The message is clear, do not trust smugglers, and do not risk your life and that of your loved ones by venturing in vain on the dangerous journey to the United States.

Trafficking in persons is a multibillion-dollar industry that only enriches criminal organizations, which after extracting every dollar they can, are indifferent to your inevitable removal from the United States, but expect you to return with another payment.

'Migrants should never risk their lives and waste their life savings by paying their hard earned money to traffickers who do not respect human life by attempting the long and dangerous journey to the US,' added Chief Morales.