About 6 a.m. on July 10, Ekaterina Juskowski was shooting a video of her friend, a model, near 36th Street in the heart of Miami Beach.
She noticed that a blue-green boat in the background — she thought it was a scuba boat — was coming closer to shore and thought, “They are ruining my video.”
Juskowski shut off the camera for a moment but turned it back on when all of the men on the boat — about nine of them — jumped off and dashed across the sand and into the city, leaving the boat bobbing, empty, by the beach. Juskowski’s video illuminated how brazenly migrants are entering the country along the Florida coastline.
U.S. Border Patrol spokesperson Frank Miller said, “That’s a testament to how confident these organizations are — what we call transnational criminal organizations — who smuggle criminals and narcotics right onto the beach.” He said the incident was under investigation and noted, “There has been an increase in known maritime smuggling in Florida — from Key West all along the Florida coast — from fiscal year 2014 to now.”
The Border Patrol’s website says there were 2,034 “Illegal Alien Apprehensions” by the Miami office in 2014 and 3,942 apprehensions via “coastal border” nationwide that year. (3,338 apprehensions were for immigrants coming in through the nation’s northern border with Canada, and a whopping 479,371 migrants were apprehended coming through the southwest border with Mexico.)
The Coast Guard’s website offers slightly different numbers: 3,587 “Alien Migrant Interdictions” in 2014, and 1,272 from January through May of this year. The Coast Guard data is broken down by nationality and shows that the vast majority of migrants it intercepts are Cuban. (2,111 of last year’s migrants were Cuban; 1,103 were Haitian; 293 from the Dominican Republic; 48 from Mexico, and 32 from other countries.)
It is not unusual for migrants to strip identifying numbers off their boats and, once close to shore, just jump off and leave the boat abandoned. Experts believe the migration is driven by organized trafficking rings, who pool clients in the Bahamas, Jamaica, or Haiti; bring them to the Florida coast; and coordinate with people already living here who tell them when and where to come ashore and help the migrants get settled.
Miller said that the Florida coastline is so vast that “it’s impossible to cover with just Border Patrol agents,” so the agency works closely with the Coast Guard, other law enforcement agencies, and foreign allies. Even so, “it’s difficult to get a solid level of situational awareness on whats coming in.” He asked that the public report tips to 877-772-8146.
Juskowski – who migrated from Russia at age 18 as a university student – had a more compassionate take. She said, “Witnessing people starting their life anew by jumping off the boat and running into the city made my personal struggle seem rather small. As controversial as the problem of illegal immigration can be for many of us, it is important to remember that people come here in search of the better life, and it comes at a very high price of great courage, hard work, and loneliness. I got to know America as a country with a big heart. While I trust it to the U.S. government to work out the policies on improving the immigration laws, it feels natural to stay compassionate and understanding on a personal level.”
One law enforcement source who works on border enforcement was more skeptical. He said groups of refugees fleeing poverty or persecution usually include women and children, whereas groups of men only are more likely to consist of “bad dudes” and violent felons who have already been deported. The threat of terrorists entering the country by boat is also a growing concern.