A journey from Haiti to South Florida ended in tragedy for one of 20 migrants who were believed to have been part of a smuggling operation.
Early Monday morning, a group of men, woman and children came ashore in Hillsboro Beach. One woman was found dead in the surf. Another was taken to the hospital.
“This is another example of one of these tragic smuggling cases where there is no regard for human life,” said Nestor Yglesias, a spokesman with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Nearby condo residents called police around 2:15 a.m., according to Hillsboro Beach police Maj. Jay Szesnat. Officers found 18 people on shore at 1021 Hillsboro Mile. Five children were in the group — one teenager and the rest 10 or younger, said Yglesias.
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The migrants likely were dropped off by boat and came through the Bahamas, said Frank Miller, a U.S. Border Patrol spokesman .
“It happens frequently,” Miller said. “The people who run these operations load up small boats with as many people as they can and they don’t provide sufficient flotation devices.”
The group was taken in for questioning and likely will be turned over to immigration officials for deportation proceedings. But Miller said it is important to bring down the smuggling operations.
“Our goal is to target and dismantle them,” he said.
Yglesias said smugglers are out for money.
“People are paid to transport a person from point A to point B,” he said. “They are treated like cargo.”
As of June, more than 2,500 migrants have been rescued and returned to their homeland, according to the Coast Guard.
Marleine Bastien, a Haitian-American activist, said she had been reaching out to the Coast Guard, but had few details late Monday. Bastien said she is hoping the group was made aware of their rights.
“We ask that these people are afforded the right to due process,” she said. “The smugglers are taking advantage of the people in Haiti,” she said.
Monday’s migrant landing came one day after the Coast Guard discovered the bodies of four men early Sunday, floating in the ocean, 20 miles east of Hollywood Beach.
As of Monday, authorities said they did not believe the cases were related and still had no clues as to who the men were or where they were from.
“We have no reason to believe these cases are tied together,” Yglesias said.
The Coast Guard scoured 1,900 square nautical miles looking for additional bodies, but called off the search Monday afternoon.
Spokesman Jon-Paul Rios said there was a possibility the search would resume. “We are still trying to determine how the bodies got there,” he said.
Officials said Monday there was no indication that the smuggling operation was tied to Sunday’s discovery.