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Illegal Migrants Focusing More On U.S. Virgin Islands

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Some 400 illegal migrants have been intercepted entering the U.S. Virgin Islands over the past six months, officials say.

From Oct. 1 through Tuesday, 277 Cubans, 45 Haitians, 42 Chinese, 14 Dominicans, 14 Poles and one Chilean were intercepted coming in to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Ricardo Castrodad, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard in San Juan, said this week.

The Coast Guard said smugglers are increasingly using a route that runs northwest along the Leeward Island chain and through the British Virgin Islands. It is difficult to choke off because the British Virgin Islands are as close as a mile from the U.S. Virgin Islands and the smugglers can blend in with the heavy tourist yacht traffic.

The migrants generally fly to Dominica or nearby islands, then hook up with smugglers who take them on chartered sailboats under the cover of darkness to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Migrants landing on the shores of the U.S. Virgin Islands attempt to sneak into nearby Puerto Rico by boat, while others seek political asylum, said Ivan Ortiz, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Juan.

Others, particularly Haitians, try to remain illegally in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which has a local Haitian community, Ortiz said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Migrants would need false identification to pass immigration checkpoints at U.S. Virgin Islands airports. There are no checkpoints for passengers flying to the U.S. mainland from San Juan, however, officers sometimes do random checks on passengers, Ortiz said.

Once a way-station for pirates, the British Virgin Islands are increasingly attractive to Caribbean smugglers carrying illegal migrants to the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
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