In February, a speedboat raced toward shore near Boca Raton. After making landfall just south of Camino Real Boulevard, more than a dozen people jumped out of the vessel and scrambled ashore.
Most of the individuals were undocumented immigrants — and four had previously been deported.
With increasing frequency, deported foreign nationals are resorting to smugglers to return to the United States — either by boat or by walking across the Mexican border.
New figures show that the number of federal prosecution cases against previously deported immigrants is increasing nationwide. Criminal prosecutions for illegal re-entry increased from 7,900 in fiscal year 2000 to 35,800 in fiscal year 2010, according to a recent report from the Washington group Immigration Policy Center (IPC).
The report further states that 44 percent of all criminal immigration prosecutions in federal courts around the country now come from illegal re-entry, as the charge is commonly called.
Prosecutions of re-entry after deportation cases in Miami federal court have also increased from 39 in fiscal year 2011 to 57 in fiscal year 2012.
Immigration attorneys said many of the immigrants who are deported return or try to return, despite the threat of criminal prosecution, because they have properties here or want to rejoin husbands, wives, or children left behind in the United States.
“Many of them have roots in the community,” said Wilfredo Allen, a prominent Miami immigration attorney. “The issue stems from an increase in deportations under the Obama administration of foreign criminals who previously had been lawful permanent residents and who left behind properties or families who are U.S. citizens and they don’t want to relocate to the deportee’s country.”
Of 47 foreign nationals arrested in Homestead in early April, at least one — Roberto Perez Hernandez — has been previously deported.
His wife, Guadalupe Aguilar, said he came back illegally to help her and their two U.S.-born children who had been left behind in Homestead. Perez Hernandez is now back in Guatemala after being removed after his arrest in early April, his wife said.
The increase in prosecutions also reflects immigration-enforcement authorities’ focus on prosecuting foreign nationals who have been previously deported and have returned.
If convicted, a foreign national charged with re-entry after deportation can be sentenced up to two years in a federal penitentiary and be deported again.
As Congress gears up to debate immigration reform, a Senate bill, if approved as law, would alter the current re-entry-after-deportation policy.
It would allow foreign nationals who have been deported to apply for legal status if they have a U.S. citizen spouse or are the children of U.S. citizens.
The Boca Raton incident on Feb. 21 was just one of hundreds of re-entry-after-deportation cases federal prosecutors have filed over the last year in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach County.
Almost every day a re-entry-after-deportation case appears on magistrate dockets.
They mainly involve prior deportees who have returned either on boats, like the Boca Raton case, or by illegally crossing the Mexican border.
Court files also include many cases of immigrants who have returned to their countries on their own after overstaying visitor visas and now face prosecution in federal court for attempting to return to the United States.
These foreign nationals get charged with visa fraud because despite having overstayed their visas before, they managed to obtain a new visitor visa from U.S. consulates in their countries.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic re-entry cases in recent weeks was the Boca Raton episode Feb. 21.
It was about 9 a.m. on that day that a federal government aircraft sighted an inbound cigarette boat seven miles east of the Boynton Beach inlet.
As the boat made landfall just south of Camino Real Boulevard in Boca Raton, the aircraft crew saw more than a dozen people jump out of the vessel and board two waiting vehicles.
One of the vehicles crashed nearby as it tried to get away from the landing site. The driver and his passengers scrambled out of the vehicle and ran away, according to a criminal complaint.
The driver and several of the passengers were later arrested after a dramatic chase. The driver and one of the passengers broke into a condominium building and hid in an apartment.
In the end, federal agents arrested 11 undocumented foreign nationals. Four of the migrants had been previously deported, according to the complaint written by an agent belonging to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Subsequently, the driver told HSI agents that he has transported undocumented immigrants to Boston after they land in South Florida, earning $2,000 per trip.
The complaint did not identify the four previously deported migrants, but The Palm Beach Post on Feb. 27 identified two of them: Guillermo Fernández of the Dominican Republic and Alvin Gillespe of Jamaica.
Fernandez was deported in 2011 after being convicted of resisting arrest and possession of heroin, cocaine and marijuana, according to court records.
Gillespe was deported in 1999 after being convicted of unlawful use of a weapon and possession of cocaine. He returned in 2007 and was deported again in 2011 after being convicted of cocaine possession.
In another case, agents belonging to HSI’s Violent Gang Task Force located Denis Díaz Montes in Miami in late February.
After checking his background, agents learned that the Honduran had been deported in 2005, according to a Border Patrol criminal complaint.
The complaint does not say when or how Díaz returned to the United States.
But officials familiar with re-entry cases say that in general previously deported foreign nationals encountered in homes or businesses have re-entered illegally via the Mexican border, while those found near the coast have arrived on smugglers’ boats.
One of the most recent cases unfolded in the Atlantic Ocean east of the South Florida coast.
On April 3 at 4:15 p.m., a Customs and Border Protection Marine Patrol aircraft sighted a vessel traveling westbound from the Bahamas toward South Florida. Later a CBP boat intercepted the vessel and detained its five occupants.
The boat captain turned out to be a U.S. citizen and one of the passengers claimed U.S. citizenship. But three other passengers were foreign nationals, two from Jamaica and one from Guyana. The Jamaicans had been previously deported, one in 2008 and the other in 2012.