19 Haitian refugees taken into custody in Martin County

Elliott Jones 7:49 AM, May 17, 2015
4:41 PM, May 17, 2015


MARTIN COUNTY — The 19 Haitians who came ashore by boat at Sailfish Point early Sunday were brought there through a smuggling operation that federal officials will be investigating, said Frank Miller, spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol.

Among the 19 were 12 men, six women and an infant girl. The girl was with her mother. All appeared to be in good health, Miller said.

They were taken to a Border Patrol station in Riviera Beach in South Florida. Eventually, they will be turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possibly deportation, he said.

Meanwhile, the Border Patrol and the federal Department of Homeland Security have started a joint investigation into what Miller said is “immigrants who were being smuggled by boat”.

“We are trying to find where they (the Haitians) came from and who was responsible,” Miller said.

 Not currently known is why the boat beached at Sailfish Point, an exclusive gated community on the oceanfront at the St. Lucie Inlet.

The incident began 1 a.m. Sunday when a Sailfish Point resident called the Martin County Sheriff’s Office about trespassers. All of the refuges were picked up by 2 a.m.

A sheriff’s helicopter spotted the boat on the beach just north of the St. Lucie Inlet, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Christine Christofek.

The Border Patrol took custody of the boat, a 26-foot Grady White cabin cruiser. Used 26-foot Grady White boats can sell for in more than $20,000, according to online boat selling site.

Two months ago another boat of refugees came ashore seven miles north at the St. Lucie-Martin County line. On March 16 searchers found 13 refugees at the Jensen Public Beach or at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Jensen Beach. About 20 were suspected of coming ashore in a 24-foot fishing boat.

They came from Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Guyana, federal officials said.

Six of them later were indicted in federal court on charges ranging from illegally smuggling people into the United States to attempting to re-enter the United States after deportation.

Others were taken to Miami for possibly deportation.

According to court documents, some of the people on the March trip paid about $7,000 each to be smuggled into the county.

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.