A Brazilian couple was arraigned in federal court in Miami recently, charged with attempting to smuggle undocumented immigrants aboard boats from the Bahamas.
The arraignment Oct. 15 of Fabio Rodrigues Froes and Juliana Rosa Tome Froes, before Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley, where they pleaded not guilty, came less than a month after they were arrested in South Florida in a federal case that has led to the exposure of a little-known dimension to the issue of migrant smuggling.
Court records show that federal investigators from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) believe that the couple was part of a sophisticated and vast smuggling network that brought relatively well-off undocumented Brazilians to South Florida via a convoluted underground system that included flights from Brazil to France, then England and finally the Bahamas where the migrants boarded boats for the final leg of the journey to South Florida. The smuggling trips date back to at least 2009.
While Cuban and Haitian migrant smuggling networks receive the bulk of public attention in South Florida, smugglers who bring undocumented immigrants from other countries are also active but generally keep under the public radar. Besides Cubans and Haitians, Coast Guard vessels also have interdicted immigrants of many other nationalities on boats headed for South Florida, including Chinese, Dominicans, Mexicans and Ecuadorans in recent years.
“While the primary [migrant smuggling] threat comes from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the People’s Republic of China, and Cuba, the Coast Guard has interdicted migrants of various nationalities throughout the world,” according to a statement posted on the Coast Guard’s Miami district website.
In another example of what may be an increase in the smuggling of undocumented migrants of various nationalities on boats, a Customs and Border Protection vessel interdicted on Oct. 8 a boat carrying a Romania, three Brazilians, two Jamaicans and seven Haitians. The Romanian, Gabriel Florica, said he was the captain of the vessel that had been stopped off Palm Beach County. He told investigators he had paid $2,000 to a person identified only as Leroy and then traveled from Britain to the Bahamas, where he boarded his boat.
According to Coast Guard figures, during fiscal year 2012 that ended Sept. 20, the largest numbers of interdicted undocumented migrants were 1,275 Cubans, 977 Haitians and 456 Dominicans. There were also 79 Mexicans stopped at sea and 138 others of various nationalities.
Court records in the Froes case show that the alleged Brazilian smuggling network was uncovered because of a routine stop of a suspicious boat at Hillsboro Inlet near Pompano Beach in Broward County two years ago.
Attorneys for the Brazilian suspects declined comment or could not be reached for comment.
On July 18, 2010, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission vessel patrolling Hillsboro Inlet in the Intracoastal Waterway encountered the boat Got Crabs.
The FFWC officer, Michael Naujoks, boarded the vessel, which carried four people. One of them, under questioning, presented a Brazilian identification card that identified him as Wellington Dos Santos Silva.
After Dos Santos and the others on board were interviewed by U.S. Border Patrol agents at Alsdorf Park Marina near Pompano Beach, Dos Santos admitted that he had tried to enter the United States illegally from the Bahamas. It was the first indication that Dos Santos was one among perhaps dozens of undocumented Brazilians smuggled by the alleged ring.