May 3, 2005 Language in a bill that passed a U.S. House of Representatives committee on April 25 recommends the assignment of a Border Patrol unit to the Caribbean, Delegate Donna M. Christensen said in a news release Monday.
She has a commitment from Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, to support the proposal as it moves forward, she said. Christensen told the committee that a Border Patrol unit was the number one priority for law enforcement officials in the territory.
"Everyone from the police commissioner to all of our federal partners" want the unit, she said.
The provision calling for the Border Patrol unit was inserted in the Homeland Security Authorization Act. Christensen said it was a compromise after she tried to add an amendment that called for some of the new 2,000 Border Patrol agents authorized in the bill to be assigned specifically to the territory.
Christensen aide Brian Modeste said Tuesday that this is the method used to get a lot of proposals underway. The bill needs approval by the full House, the U.S. Senate and action by President Bush before it becomes law.
Modeste said that Christensen's office is also working with the Homeland Security Department to get a Border Patrol unit in the territory. "They had an agent come down and do an assessment," he said.
According to Christensen, the Virgin Islands has 175 miles of open coastal borders and is a gateway to the continental United States. While undocumented immigrants land on all of the Virgin Islands, St. John in particular gets a lot of the traffic.
Ivan Ortiz, spokesman at U.S. Customs and Immigration Service in San Juan, said Tuesday he has no up-to-date statistics for the Virgin Islands because they are now combined with those from Puerto Rico.
However, he had numbers for 1999 to 2003. In 1999, 621 undocumented immigrants were caught across the Virgin Islands. The number was 674 in 2000, 551 in 2001, 818 in 2002, and 407 in 2003.
In 2003, the vast majority 228 hailed from China. Seventy-nine came from Haiti, 54 from Cuba, 24 from the Dominican Republic, five from Syria, four from Colombia, and three each from Sri Lanka, Dominica and India. Two came from St. Kitts, and one each from Cameroon and Jamaica.
However, the population makeup appears to have changed since 2003. In previous years, most of the undocumented immigrants hailed from China. However, an East End resident who did not want his name used said Tuesday that residents haven't seen any Chinese in quite some time. He said they're now from the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
"I'm brushing up on my French," he said.
The resident said that a few months ago, residents counted 300 undocumented immigrants in one week. While the numbers are not usually that high, the resident said another East End resident saw a group of four get picked up April 30, and another group on April 27. The East End Homeowner's Association keeps track of undocumented immigrant traffic in its neighborhood.
They now arrive dressed as construction workers rather than in their "Sunday best" to better blend in with people who regularly frequent the island's eastern end, he said. The area is in the midst of a building boom.
The resident said some undocumented immigrants may pose a public health threat because those countries have diseases long eradicated in the United States. Those swimming ashore also create a litter problem because they leave their wet clothes behind when they change into dry attire. V.I. National Park trails to Brown Bay and Leinster Bay, in particular, as well as remote shorelines, are strewn with clothes.
The East End resident said that some of the woman who arrive illegally are pregnant. One gave birth in the bushes last year.
He said he's heard from a Dominican that the price tag for a trip from the Dominican Republic runs around $3,000.
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