Immigration

Traffic stops in Miami-Dade expose probable migrant smuggling networks

Two Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helicopters patrol the Straits of Florida in search of boats with undocumented immigrants.
Two Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helicopters patrol the Straits of Florida in search of boats with undocumented immigrants. Customs and Border Protection

Two recent traffic stops, one in Doral and the other in North Miami-Dade, helped federal immigration authorities detect two possible migrant smuggling networks — one that ferried Brazilians and the other Mexicans.

The two episodes are not connected, but both reflect the ongoing attraction of South Florida for undocumented immigrants from multiple countries who are either seeking jobs or to reunite with family members.

While the arrival of foreign nationals without immigration papers is common in South Florida, how the two groups of Mexicans and Brazilians were being transported was not.

The two groups were found at random when suspicious law-enforcement officers spotted vehicles transporting foreign nationals who mostly spoke no English, had no U.S. documents and appeared to have recently arrived in the country.

The most intriguing of the two traffic stops involved the Doral episode March 19 when a city police officer stopped a black Ford pickup truck with five people on board.

A criminal complaint filed by a special agent of Homeland Security Investigations, a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, explained what happened next.

“The officer encountered five individuals with foreign passports and only one spoke English,” the criminal complaint said.

The officer contacted Border Patrol and the agents who responded questioned Enoque Leite Da Silva, the man driving the truck.

He told the agents that he had picked up his sister who had been smuggled into South Florida from Brazil via the Bahamas, and that the smugglers had ordered him to drive the other three individuals, also Brazilians, to their destinations.

A search of the truck revealed that four of the Brazilians, including Leite Da Silva’s sister, had possibly used false European passports to enter the United States without visas. Two passports were from Italy and two from Portugal, according to the criminal complaint.

The document doesn’t say how the Brazilians arrived in South Florida, but suggests they might have flown in from the Bahamas. Usually Brazilian undocumented migrants arrive by boat.

In the complaint Leite Da Silva told agents he paid $10,500 to smugglers in exchange for bringing his sister on the voyage to South Florida.

The Mexican migrant case was discovered by Border Patrol agents Feb. 3 during a “routine patrol” in the vicinity of State Road 27 and Krome Avenue, according to court records.

“State Road 27 is a known route that is exploited by criminal human smuggling organizations to bring smuggled aliens into the state of Florida,” a criminal complaint filed by a Border Patrol agent said.

The agents spotted a vehicle that carried so many passengers that it was “weighed down.” They began following because crowded vehicles in the area where they were patrolling are often an indication of migrant smuggling.

“As the agents followed the vehicle, the driver sped up and slowed down drastically,” according to the criminal complaint. “As the agents got closer and tried to drive alongside the suspect vehicle, they observed that the people inside the vehicle were avoiding eye contact with the agents, which is a common practice of people being smuggled.”

Eventually, the agents stopped the truck and discovered that the driver, Israel Zavala Cisneros, was an undocumented Mexican immigrant who had been previously deported in 1998 and 2001.

Alfonso Chardy: 305-376-3435, @AlfonsoChardy

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